Houshiary was born in Shiraz, Iran. She initially trained in theatre, turning to the visual arts after her arrival in London in 1973. She studied at Chelsea School of Art, London 1976-1979, was Junior Fellow, Cardiff College of Art, 1979-1980, and her first solo exhibition was subsequently at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff in 1980. She quickly became established at the forefront of the younger generation of sculptors working in Britain in the 1980s, and her work was included in important group exhibitions such as Aperto '82, XL Venice Biennale in 1982, and Les Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1989. Houshiary's first solo show at the Lisson Gallery, London was in 1984, and she has continued to show there on a regular basis ever since. She had her first solo exhibition in New York at Lehmann Maupin gallery in 1999, and a second in 2003. The Centre d'Art Contemporain, Genève organised a solo museum show for the Musée Rath, Geneva in 1988, which then toured to the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1989. Her solo exhibition, Ithmus, was first shown at Magasin - Centre National d'Art Contemporain de Grenoble, before touring to the Museum Villa Stuck, München, the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, and Hochschule für Angewandete Kunst, Vienna in 1995-1996. Her work was included in the XXIII Bienal de São Paulo in 1996, Material Culture: The Object in British Art of the 1980s and '90s at the Hayward Gallery, London in 1997, Skultur: A BrickIntervention, Basel in 2000, and the Skulptur Biennial Münsterland in 2003. She was short listed for the Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery in 1994, and was awarded the title Professor at the London Institute in 1997. Houshiary lives and works in London.
Houshiary's work has been informed by both her own cultural heritage and her knowledge of western art. For her sculpture of the last two decades she has worked with a wide range of materials, including terracotta, zinc, copper, brass, lead and gold- leaf, glazed brick and limestone. Following a period in the early 1980s in which she made large bio-morphic forms using clay and straw, she turned to using beaten zinc and copper for works of a more calligraphic nature. As the decade progressed, her sculpture became increasingly concerned with the universal language of geometric abstraction, a reflection of her deeply rooted interest in and understanding of Sufi metaphysics and of the art of Islam. Over the last decade she has made a series of elliptical brick towers in collaboration with the architect Pip Horne. The balance of darkness and light, a key motif in Houshiary's work, and the essential elements of earth and wind, are encapsulated in the rhythm and energy of the spiralling tower forms: "The column creates visual movement when approached and passed, transforming its dual nature of earth and weight to air and lightness." Since 1992, Houshiary has also concentrated on drawing and working on canvas. Using graphite or ink on a black or white ground, she creates intricately drawn circular patterns made up of minute Arabic words. The text cannot be read as the surface marks are so delicate they appear to dissolve, leaving only an ethereal, shimmering presence: "My evolution has been from form to formlessness. I have tried to capture the substance or the essence of things rather than the thing itself." In her recent four-screen video installation, Breath of 2003, the drawings come to life, with each screen capturing a fleeting mist which expands and contracts, as if breathing on glass. The rhythm of the breathing is animated by both a resonating bass and vocal chants from Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian voices.
Lynne Cooke: Shirazeh Houshiary, Lisson Gallery, London, 1984
Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, Jeremy Lewison: Shirazeh Houshiary: Ithmus, Magasin - Centre d'Art Contemporain, Grenoble, Museum villa Stuck, München, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, 1995
Fereshteh Daftari: Shirazeh Houshiary: Breath, Skulptur Biennial Münsterland, 2003