Ahmad Nadalian

Sam Bower


According to a tradition in the north of Iran images of fish or snakes can be a sign of treasure. By carving simple fish shapes and other forms onto small stones and river rocks, artist Ahmad Nadalian seeks to repopulate the spirit of neglected streams and rivers in his native Iran and around the world and share these treasures with future generations. Over the past decade the artist has traveled to cities and remote regions in every continent (with the exception of Antarctica) to work with children and local residents to create countless treasures which are then tossed into rivers and buried under the earth, spreading his message on a scale that few artists have before.

Nadalian's "message to contemporary man is to remain aware of the dangers of environmental disasters and political crises. If there is any audiences in the future, this work will tell them the story of life and humanity." Most of the images are of fish but some include hand prints, or the foot prints or humans or wild animals. These carved stones are sometimes ritually scattered for kilometers along a river. "In his childhood, the rivers of Poloor were filled with fish. With the gradual polluting of the waters the fish disappeared. Through his carvings, he wishes to tell us that the river still has fish, though only images remain. The fish is a symbol of life and fertility. Some of the fish are immersed in water, but a greater number are upon the stones that lie in the middle of the river, their bodies only partly under water. The rush of water constantly soaks them, while the bubbling of the river provides a suitable background for viewing the artwork.

One carved stone, buried in Manhattan's Central Park, featured an image of a woman's face surrounded by a symbolic ray of light inspired by Statue of Liberty. "However," the artist is quick to add, "this symbol was originally rooted in the Persian sun god Mithra." The universality of Nadalian's stone images and their ties to his Persian heritage, are part of their appeal. As natural images with deep historical roots they are both recognizable and enigmatic. For the artist, "walking along a riverbank and washing the stones, which he has already carved, is not only a performance, but also a prayer, a form of worship, an invocation... One version of these performances, usually perform with his family (including his son, his wife and his mother) is a dedication to rain, blessings and fertility. Elements such as water, earth, fire and air are used in this work."

Like archaeological artifacts, most of these stones are likely to remain hidden for generations. Some are documented by the artist on his website with a map which describes their general location. Some are displayed temporarily in galleries or at events, or through video installations documenting his process. Most of Nadalian's work, is scattered across the land during his trips or occasionally by travelers who bury them in remote locations for him. Some stones include an image on one side and the artist's contact information and website address on the other, providing a link for anyone who finds them to their global context. Other projects take the opposite approach to history and involve ephemeral "body art" performances by the artist and others using river water to place hand prints and footprints on boulders and then watching them evaporate.

Coming from a land as rich in history as it is in turmoil, the artist's perspective of the future of our planet is rather bleak: "Global warming, pollution, wars and crises across the world may terminate life of most of living creatures including human beings." Art, for Ahmad Nadalian, is a blessing and a connection to time and place, and his "only concern is that humanity, at present or in the future, may be less in harmony with the past, and with the earth and heavens."