Painting is Like Breathing for Me

Painting is Like Breathing for Me

Raoof Haghighi: “Painting is Like Breathing for Me”
6 – 15 April, 2023
A Gallery
2 Motcomb St

Raoof Haghighi‘s April exhibition in London, “Painting is Like Breathing for Me”, juxtaposes his portraits of the objective, reality-bound, physical truth of his sitters, with his drawings that explore the subjective, no-holds barred, ethereal poetry of his dreams.

After experiencing decades of oppressive control of thought and speech, these drawings respond by communicating as freely and honestly as possible, on precisely the banned subjects. By openly expressing what he’d previously been prevented from saying, Raoof’s works have become a beacon of the Persian tradition of poets, artists and philosophers, particularly to those still in Iran.

Raoof Haghighi - Outcast
Outcast, Pencil on paper, 2022

Since the Iranian government’s September ’22 ban of Instagram, where Raoof has 223,000 followers, he doubled down: Raoof dedicated his portrait of a tattooed woman toying with her hijab at the Royal Institute of Portrait Painters to “all the brave women in Iran who are currently fighting for their freedom”, painted a portrait of actress and activist Golshifteh Farahani, hashtagged a drawing of a woman’s loose hair turning to wings with #MahsaAmini, the woman who died in suspicious circumstances after being jailed for not covering her hair and adding to his “Adam & Eve” series, exposing the hypocrisy of forced veils:

Raoof Haghighi - Adam and Eve
“Adam and Eve”, Pencil on paper, 2022

The exhibition’s centrepiece, titled “Just Take Them and Leave Me Alone” touched on the most raw-nerve at the centre of the Women’s Rights movement in Iran. It depicts a surreal image of a woman who, as her breasts and groin have been removed, is left free from the abusive constraints or demands placed on her because of the male response to those parts of her body.

This drawing went viral, being shared 40k+ times on Facebook, getting 36k+ likes on Instagram and the NFT selling for £18k. It was placed on the front cover of Reddit where it received 2.6k comments such as “This is haunting. Thinking the other night how I wanted to walk somewhere, but then changed my mind because we’ve had a lot of sexual assault in the area recently..” and “Being reduced on your superficial sexual characteristics is sad, you are more than just appearance of skin, muscles and forms of your body”.

Raoof Haghighi - “Just Take Them and Leave Me Alone”,
“Just Take Them and Leave Me Alone”, Pencil on paper, 2022

By placing Raoof’s drawings alongside his portraits in oil, it becomes apparent that his claim that their creation is like breathing for him, is a statement on the importance and power of truth. His uncompromising attention to accurate depiction of external flesh, hair and bone is no different to his same glare at our internal feelings, thoughts and dreams.

Through Raoof Haghighi’s dedication to discipline in observation and willingness to communicate what he sees, perhaps freedom will spread from his paintings, and some more of us may be able to breathe.

©2023 Raoof Haghighi, A Gallery