A Window To Color

Inspired by the poetry and paintings of Iranian artist Sohrab Sepehri, Mamak Khadem’s new project A WINDOW TO COLOR shares a message of peace and understanding through an exploration of what is most sacred in the natural world as expressed in Sepehri’s contributions to the cannon of Persian literature, culture, history and traditions.

Like Sepehri, Mamak Khadem seeks to explore the intersections of Eastern and Western traditions. Collaborating with traditional performers from Iran as well as world-aware instrumentalists from the West, Mamak hopes to inspire people around the world, particularly the young, to contemplate, observe and celebrate the value of nature and the environment.

Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980)

“If you are coming to see me, pray tread slowly, gently, lest the fragile china of my solitude may crack.” That is how painter/poet Sohrab Sepehri prefers to be approached. A mystic and a seasoned world traveler, he never lost touch with his Persian roots. His vision was inspired by simplicity and an openness to seeing the Creator in all things. His God was in nature, and the wonders instilled by its emanation. His poems, reflecting his deep innermost feelings and perceptions, depict sometimes in autobiographical strokes, stages of a “voyage from seed to flower.” His brush on canvas and his pen on paper moved to embody this vision in poetic form. He was “the wayfarer,” the “lover who was always alone,” translating his experiences of life into word and color.


This is an allegorical depiction of the “fall” from heaven and the contradictions that confuse and torment the human soul. Sepehri depicts an apple – the biblical forbidden fruit of knowledge – falling to the ground and the confusion that ensues, alluding to the disintegration of the celestial state. Sepehri here yearns for reunion with the source, for an undivided state of being: “This stone and I, where is our yoke? This smile, where are its lips? The wave came, but where is the sea?”

At The Water’s Edge •  Lab-e Aab

According to some Persian mystics (Attar, Hamedani), Satan is the greatest lover among all because he would not kneel before anyone (in this instance, man) other than the Beloved even when the Beloved commanded him. He was therefore expelled from heaven. The poem recounts a nostalgic moment when Satan, gazing into a pool of water on a rainy night, contemplates the mystery of love.

Invocation • Niyayesh

Written in the form of a prayer, Invocation is a poetic expression of the lover’s desire to be united with the Beloved. It is an appeal for darkness to be engulfed by light. In meditation, Sepehri yearns for universal consciousness and a healing of the divide. He conveys the angst and loneliness that accompany the desire to transcend the human condition.

Rapture • Shooram ra

Here Sepehri speaks of being and nothingness: “I am instrument: a refrain, I pick up, I play, pluck me into naught, carouse me into oblivion.” In the poet’s every vein, there is commotion, and he thirsts after the spring water of clarity to bring beauty to his otherwise restless rapture.

From Green To Green • az Sabz be Sabz

A weary man trapped in the darkness of modern life longs to connect with a primordial state of mysticism. He has no fear of death, for life and death are the two sides of the same coin.

I, in this darkness
wish for a luminous lamb
to come, to graze
on the grass of my weariness.

I, in this darkness
see my outstretched arms wet beneath this rain that once drenched
the first prayers of man.

I, in this darkness,
opened doors
to ancient meadows,
to golden images we watched on mythical walls.

I, in this darkness, saw the roots
and tendered
the meaning of water to death’s new sapling.

Water • Aab

In many creation myths, water is the essential element of life. Here, Sepehri speaks of pure and crystalline water, calling upon us not to pollute it; after all, those who live upstream have not muddied the water.

Let’s not muddy the water:
Down yonder, a pigeon drinks.
In a far away thicket, a finch bathes. In a village somewhere, a jug is filled.

How lucent the stream!
How sweet the water!
How the folks up yonder savor!
May their springs surge.
May their cows give abundant milk. Though I’ve never been
to that village, I know
God’s footsteps grace its fields.

Those on the stream’s edge understand the water.
They have not muddied it.

Let us too not muddy the water.

A Call To Beginning • Nedaye Aaghaz

Dismayed by the indifference of humans, Sepehri responds to the vague yet familiar invitation (“as air is familiar with the body of leaf ”) to depart. He is beckoned to “the unending vastness,” the wordless space where communication is possible, or as Rumi puts it, “where words grow without letters.” He is called to leave this existence to start a new beginning.

Where are my shoes?
Who calls: Sohrab?
The voice is familiar as is the air with the body of a leaf.

My mother sleeps.
Manuchehr and Parvaneh too,
and perhaps the whole town.
This June night sails the seconds smoothly as an elegy,
and the cool breeze that drifts across the hem of my green blanket robs me of sleep.
I smell migration:
my pillow overflows
with the feather songs of swallows.

Morning will come. The sky will migrate into this bowl of water.

Tonight, I must depart.

I talked through the most open window
to the people of this town but never heard a word about the essence of time.
No eyes gazed lovingly at this earth.
No one was witched by a garden
or prized a magpie in the field.

My heart brumes like a cloud when I see Angel,
the neighbor’s ripe young daughter studying theology under
the rarest of elm trees on earth.

Tonight I must leave,
pick up my suitcase,
the size of my shirt’s loneliness, and head towards the colossal trees; towards the unending vastness that always calls my name.

A voice is calling again: Sohrab! Where are my shoes?