Medieval Medicinal Botany, Folding Gardens

Medieval Medicinal Botany, Folding Gardens

Shelf Garden, viola plant, detail

Folding Gardens, Medieval Medicinal Botany, 2017

The Herbal of al-Ghafiqi manuscript was composed by the 12th century Andalusian physician and scholar Abu Ja`far al-Ghafiqi. This is one of the most remarkable medieval botanical manuscripts on medicinal plants, their names, their visuals and their healing properties.

Folding Gardens, 2017, is based on the prominent 12th c. medieval manuscript: The Herbal of al-Ghafiqi. Folding Gardens is an installation composed of 10 transparent silk organza strips suspended from the ceiling. The floral patterns on strips are inspired by the plants’ images from The Herbal of al-Ghafiqi botanical manuscript. I printed the vertical garden compositions digitally on transparent silk organza that can be folded to become portable. The notion of carrying gardens of medicinal plants, that can be folded and opened on demand, is aimed to remind one of healing properties of nature and the importance of connectivity with the natural world in general. The installation is accompanied by wall shelves, sound of water fountain and an interactive Medicinal Herbal Volvelle (a wheel-chart). One shelf displays the folded version of strips and the other two display jars, containing medicinal plants’ extracts. Visitors can select any jar and smell its aromatic content and interact with the Medicinal Herbal Volvelle to learn about the healing properties of eight plants. They are also encouraged to walk around the Folding Gardens to see the drawings up close. Such a sensual experience that simultaneously engages the senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell, again is meant to evoke the beauty of natural world.

On a personal level, this installation evokes the memories of my childhood: my family has deep roots in the southern city of Shiraz, Iran. Shiraz is known for its tradition of using herbal medicine that is still a vital part of people’s daily diet. The visual memories of many rows of herbal extract bottles on shelves at the Shiraz bazaar are still vivid to me. As a child I spent ample time shopping at the traditional drugstores in Shiraz with my grandmother, who firmly believed in the healing power of herbal medicine for all kinds of minor ailments. The Shirazis’ obsession with the power of herbal medicine goes back to the medieval medical practices that recognized the benefits of natural medicine for the human body. Folding Gardens not only underscores the significance of visual elements in the early science of botany and medicine, but also draws attention to the contrast between natural medicines and chemically manufactured drugs.

Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, 2017

Folding Gardens, 2017, digital prints on silk organza, rods and threads, each strip: 10’x 24” total: 10’x10’10’

Folded strips, threads and shelf, 2017

Medicinal Herbal Volvelle, 2017
Silkscreen on hand-cut aluminium, laser-cut wood and printed text, 24”x 24”
Rotate the black wheel, using the nob, to reveal the healing properties of each plant

Aroma, 2017
Bottles, shelves, labels and plants’ extracts, 7″x 24″x 8″
Open any bottle and smell the aroma. The labels explain the healing properties of each plant

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, 2018

Visitors interacting with Folding Gardens, San Jose ICA, 2018

Euphrat Museum of Art, De Anza College, Cupertino, 2017

Poetry and dance performance, Euphrat Museum of Art, November 2017

Folding Gardens, Concept Design for the Installation:

Concept Design by Pantea Karimi, 3-D Modeling by Pedram Karimi, 2017

Research and Fellowship Residency at Kala Art Institute, 2016-2017

My fellowship residency at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, Jan-July 2017, focused on medieval botany. I explored ideas of creating medieval medicinal botanical gardens both in installation and prints.

Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, CA, printmaking facility, Jan 2017, my work station

Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, CA, Jan 2017, burning my screen: botanical garden stencil


Pages of The Herbal of al-Ghafiqi, Botanical Manuscript in Arabic, written by Abu Ja`far al-Ghafiqi, 12th c., Andalusia

“The age of ghafiqi was also encyclopedic epoch, when creative energy in the Arab-Islamic world focused on organizing, comparing, and synthesizing its vast treasury had initially been acquired through translation, but its contents had been extended and significantly transformed by authors like Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Abu Bakr al-Razi.”

Pages of Herbal of al-Ghafiqi, Botanical Manuscript in Arabic, written by Abu Ja`far al-Ghafiqi, 12th c., Andalusia

Pages of De Materia Medica, Botanical Manuscript in Arabic, originally written by Dioscorides, 1st c., Greece
De Materia Medica by Dioscorides was one of the earliest scientific botanical manuscripts to be translated from Greek to Arabic
These are leaves from an illustrated manuscript of the Arabic version of De Materia Medica, copied in the 7th c. and 13th c. in Iran

Images: Courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, USA, Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, Canada and Malek National Museum and Library, Tehran, Iran

Malek Library, Tehran, Iran: researching Herbal of Al-Ghafiqi manuscript, Jan 2016