Behjat Sadr at the Mosaic Rooms – discover the art of the pioneering female modernist from Iran.

Behjat Sadr: Dusted Waters is the current exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms, London. It is the first UK retrospective of Behjat Sadr (1924-2009), trailblazing Iranian modernist painter. Although little known today (the exhibition is aiming to change that), Sadr was one of the first female painters of her time to gain international recognition, she exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1963.

The exhibition documents the life of the artist divided into three chapters, corresponding with three cities that influenced the artist: Rome in the 1950s, which marks the beginning of Sadr’s artistic career, Tehran in the 1960s and 1970s, and finally Paris from the 1980s. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979 Sadr left for France where she died in 2009.

Behjat Sadr: Dusted Waters, general view from the exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms (photo: Ground Impressions)

Early on in her career Sadr practically disposed of all the colours from her palette, black paint dominates her paintings. While seemingly abstract, her artworks make reference to organic forms, they also evoke water, soil and earth. The title of the exhibition – Dusted Waters was taken from one of Sadr’s poems. In both her poetry and art black is a recurring colour with symbolic significance. Black is often used to represent or describe night, although thick layers of black paint are also significant in the context of the booming oil economy in the Middle East. Sadr visited oil rigs in the southern Iran in the 1970 and there are photographs from this trip on display. Moving away from the traditional painting on canvas, the artist explored various media such as painting on glass and metal. In her later years she was also experimenting with collages, which she termed ‘photopainting’.

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Behjat Sadr, Untitled (detail, photo: Ground Impressions)

Documents, quotes from diaries, poems and photographs scattered across the gallery allow the viewers to see the artworks in the context of Sadr’s life. Smiling younger versions of Sadr look back at us from photographs taken in her studio and during trips to Europe and around Iran. Finally, in the last room we stand face to face with the artist captured on film in the act of artistic creation. Painting in her iconic technique with black paint on glass Sadr comments on her work and allows us to witness the painting process, which is no less fascinating than the finished artwork. The documentary film on view is ‘Behjat Sadr: Suspended Time’ (2006) directed by Mitra Farahani, friend of the late artist.

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photographs of some of Behjat Sadr’s lost works, on display at Behjat Sadr: Dusted Waters exhibition (photo: Ground Impressions)

In the first two rooms, the backgrounds complement the artworks beautifully. Large kinetic paintings can be seen from different angles, the layout encourages the viewers to explore how the fluid patterns change under different lighting conditions. There is also an interactive archive with drawers that can be pulled out containing Sadr’s photo-archive and reproductions of some of her lost artworks. In the last room, large collages are set against the backdrop of photographs used as studies of specific subjects, such as rocks, air or trees. Although the artworks are mostly untitled, seeing them in the context of the artist’s life allows the viewer to appreciate them on individual level as well as a part of larger themes.

Very well-thought exhibition with fascinating insights into life and work of this outstanding artist.


Behjat Sadr: Dusted Waters is at the Mosaic Rooms 28 September 2018 – 08 December 2018

You can read more about the exhibition at the Mosaic Rooms website:


Disclaimer: All the biographical information about the artist comes from the brochure provided at the gallery and gallery labels.


  1. I wish I could see this exhibition! I like that they show the context of artworks and also inform you about the artist’s life. Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It is a small but very well designed exhibition. Being able to look at all the archival photos and other materials really makes you feel like you get to know the artist.


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