by Roshanak Taghavi
“Since you are more than tongue can tell, behold how eloquent I am without a tongue,” he wrote almost eight centuries ago. “Like the moon, without legs, I race through nothingness.”
Iranians have, throughout their history, engaged in this pursuit of spiritual progression — both during Iran’s millennia-long institution of monarchy and also after the country’s 1979 Revolution, which brought with it the establishment of an Islamic Republic.
Through it all, they have adapted to the challenges that came with new shifts in rule, infusing the realities of their external circumstances into personal rituals (such as holidays or prayers), and saturating their poetry and art with symbolism. Through the written word, the creation of art and an inherent flexibility, Iranians have always managed to communicate “without a tongue.”
Rumi, whose 800 year-old poems are, coincidentally, the most widely read throughout the United States, remains deeply revered within all strata of Iranian society. His teaching of humanity as Heech, or nothingness, is most prominently conveyed through the work of contemporary Iranian artist and sculptor Parviz Tanavoli.
Tanavoli’s sculpture, Poet Turning into Heech, which depicts the body of a man turning into a poet, is the centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection of contemporary Iranian art in New York.