In The Studio: Mojgan Endjavi Barbe

Collector, curator and champion of emerging artists

11 Nov 2021, words by Laura Cherrie Beaney in The Lifestyle

Mojgan Foundry

As a child, Mojgan's family home was filled with poets, authors, academics and artists, a community that inspired a culture-fuelled existence. A student of political science, Mojgan is a vibrant character, deeply invested in human connections and committed to empowering others. Like many of the same generation, she left Iran at 19 and did not return for many years. Her immersion in the international art scene as a curator and collector spanned decades and took her from Paris to Toyko, London and then Geneva. 

Later, art became her vehicle through which to enrich communities and uplift a new generation of creators. She returned to Shiraz in 2011 to renovate a collection of rundown historic homes in the heart of the carpet bazaar, transforming them into boutique hotels that double as artist residencies. Continuing her journey as a collector and curator she then moved to the UAE to establish a programme of international residencies, exhibitions and community engagements that will unleash the potential of emerging Iranian artists. 

 We catch up with Mojgan at the Foundry in Downtown Dubai to discover the exhibition of her personal collection of contemporary Iranian art, Once Upon A Time.

Mojgan: Arriving in the UAE in 2015 I felt a surprising sense of calm. I’d been away from the MENA region for some time having left my native Iran in 1979. At 19 I moved to the US to study sociology and political science, subjects which continue to fascinate me and inform all that I do. I got married and moved to Paris, France - a city rich in all cultural forms. I spent four years in the City of Light followed by three years in the vastly different Tokyo. 

 Mojgan: Life in Toyko felt a little like Copolla’s film, Lost in Translation. Communication, something I pride myself on, suddenly felt limited. The locals were shy and reserved, polite and curious. Order and harmony were omnipresent. My most memorable lesson from there? I remember being at the heart of the urban centre in Tokyo and noticing a simple flower hanging out of a wall, it stayed with me. A beautiful flower in the heart of a crowded city is meditation. 

 Mojgan: Following Asia and America, I found myself in London for a decade and then spent 15 years in Switzerland. There was a burning desire within me to be closer - culturally and geographically - to my homeland which inspired my move to UAE. 

 Mojgan: Each city left its imprint upon me. America gave me a sense that one can reach their ambitions if one works hard enough - a.k.a the American dream while Paris and Tokyo inspired me with their urban harmony, rich and highly complex cultures. 

 Mojgan: Arriving in the UAE I had the sense that I was at the centre of a real community and hub - you’ll easily encounter eight nationalities, if not more, at any given dinner party.

Mojgan Foundry
Mojgan Foundry
Mojgan Foundry

Mojgan: I’ve been a curator, patron and collector of art for the past 30 years and was raised by a family that orbited around culture. My father and uncle were intellectuals and our home was always a centre for debate and critical thought, filled with writers, poets and artists. My uncle was a profound and particular influence upon me, he spent decades collecting and chronicling Iranian verbal culture in order to preserve it for future generations. 

 Mojgan: My personal art collection began when I was a student, and originally focused on western artists - I was a novice so my first piece was a print I purchased because I liked the colours! 

 Mojgan: I acquired several historical homes in the beautiful city of Shiraz just behind the vibrant carpet bazaar. Together with my husband, we began an extensive restoration project with the aim of transforming the homes into boutique hotels and artist residences. It was a challenge as the area has such a rich history but became downtrodden and neglected by the community. We roused it from its beauty sleep!

We began an extensive restoration project with the aim of transforming the homes into boutique hotels and artist residences
Mojgan Foundry
Mojgan Foundry

Mojgan: I have worked with international artists since 1989. When I moved to Tokyo with my husband I started curating exhibitions with Japanese artists, followed by exhibitions of French, Colombian and Japanese artists that I brought to London. In Geneva, I curated exhibitions for gallery Kashya Hildebrand presenting works by the likes of acclaimed Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri. I also helped to establish the Persian Garden Association there with the aim of cultivating the first Persian garden in Europe as an expression of appreciation to the Swiss community for welcoming many Iranians who worked, lived and studied there.

 Mojgan: My work in Geneva saw my focus fall more closely upon Iranian culture and artists. Frequent travels to my country made me increasingly aware of the breadth and depth of the art that was being produced there yet I also realised that Iranian artists were not connecting with international audiences due to social and political limitations. I wanted my work to connect Iranian artists with the rest of the world. 

 Mojgan: Working closely with emerging artists brings me so much joy. I organise exhibitions for them, help them to find gallery representation and international opportunities for exposure and development - from art residencies to scholarships. I’m convinced that residencies are a vital window for the outside world, especially where Iran is concerned.

Mojgan Endjavi
Foundry Downtown Dubai
Foundry Downtown Dubai

Mojgan: My art collection is organic, however concept and content unite the works. Art is like a book: we enjoy different authors and each book gives us different inspiration and insight. Each artist offers me the discovery of a new universe. I've been working with artists for 30 years and continue to buy with my heart never for investment. 

 Mojgan: My current exhibition at Foundry, Once Upon A Time, encompasses several works by Iranian artists from my personal collection from California-based Leili Nazarian who combines skateboards with Persian marquetry techniques to surrealist Vahid Jafarnejad and calligraphy artist Behrouz Zindashti. As I suggest in the curatorial text, each work is a tale and each artist has a story to tell. When guests explore this exhibition they encounter a world of universal symbols and private meanings, but they always decipher their own story between the lines and become a character lodged in a shared narrative. 

 Mojgan: What I love about Foundry is that the space addresses the gap between gallery and the creative community. The location is a co-working space, open 7 days a week from 10 am - 10 pm with a cafe so that budding entrepreneurs can work and become inspired by the surrounding art. There’s nowhere else like it here! The Foundry really cultivates a creative community, here, emerging artists can connect with independent curators like myself as well as collectors. There’s even a studio to record podcasts! 

 Mojgan: I’ve been present throughout my exhibition to meet passers-by and share their encounters with the art - you never know who’s coming! I’m there to take guided tours and to be the voice of each artist. On Fridays, I give tours to children from 11 am -12 pm - their education is so important. The children engage with the artworks and produce their own creations - being part of Foundry is my gift back to this community. 

 Mojgan: In the UAE and beyond in the MENSA region I’d like to see more collaboration. Collaboration between institutions as well as individuals. I really believe that together we have a stronger voice and greater impact. 

 Once Upon a Time concludes November 20, 2021 

 Discover more here.