Artworks hang from the upper level of an abandoned factory in Cape Town’s Salt River district. Hundreds of pigeons occupy the building, flying around or staring down from above. The floor is littered with dead birds, droppings, fallen eggs and feathers. Walking amid the debris, artist Kamyar Bineshtarigh says, “If I were a pigeon, I’d hang out here too.”

Hanging from the building’s beams and lining the walls are Bineshtarigh’s fabric artworks, featuring large sections of text in Farsi – one of many languages written in the Arabic alphabet. The building is part of a compound where the artist has his studio. 

There is a level of freedom in the artworks hanging there, withstanding the moody Cape Town wind and the chaos caused by the birds. “Using the spaces that you have access to gives a different life to your work,” he says. The self-installed exhibition first went up in December, and again briefly in March because of its popularity. 

The 25-year-old Iranian artist describes this latest series of work as being consumed by processes of “randomness”. The pieces of fabric contain the ghazals – a type of lyrical poem – of famed 14th-century Persian Sufi poet Hafez.

In Iran, there is a tradition of divination called Fal-e Hafez, which involves consulting Hafez’s poetry for guidance. “Everyone has this book of Hafez in their house. It’s a form of celebration, or when you are uncertain about something or seeking advice, you randomly open his book and that poem becomes your answer,” Bineshtarigh says. 

He approached his latest works with the same random methodology, opening the Divan-i Hafez (a collection of Hafez’s poems) to choose the ghazals that were transcribed on the fabrics. In this way, he uses the Fal-e Hafez method to direct the art, rather than attribute any personal meaning to it. 

“The process starts with randomness. But there’s some kind of decision that comes afterwards, like for example, what brush will I use? Will I let it bleed or not? Or how to tear the fabric?”

Language, text and writing are central to Bineshtarigh’s process, which considers how they are understood and misunderstood. Before fabric, he wrote on glass with printing ink, which he loves for its ability to bleed. Later, he would break the glass. This symbolised the concept of broken language.

In Cape Town, Bineshtarigh is known for a mural inscribed on the entire surface of the AVA Gallery in 2019. The text is a transliteration – the writing of words using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or script – of Edward Said’s seminal book Orientalism  , written in 1978. In this case, the English words were written in Arabic alphabet but their meaning was still in English, which caused intentional confusion among viewers. “People would not realise it was in English unless they tried to read it,” he says. 

“Usually, I don’t want my work to be comprehensive. I don’t want for you to read it. I just want the initial reaction when you see and how you feel about it.”

Kamyar Bineshtarigh was born in 1996. Their work was featured in several exhibitions at key galleries and museums, including the Everard Read/ CIRCA, Cape Town and the Everard Read/ CIRCA, Johannesburg. In MutualArt’s artist press archive, Kamyar Bineshtarigh is featured in Deep Seeing:‘on Sight: Looking Does Not Mean Seeing’ at Michaelis Galleries, a piece from the Artthrob in 2020.