From Iranian Village to World Renowned Painter


Mokarrameh Ghanbari was born in 1928 in Darikandeh village in the Mazandaran State in Northern Iran. She was sold at a young age to a man much older and lived with him with his two other wives. By the time she was in her late 60s, she owned a cow that she was very attached to. Every day she would go on a long walk to feed the animal. But eventually she became sick with exhaustion and her children sold the cow without telling her. Overcome by sorrow she began to paint. She was illiterate of course, so she began painting without any formal training.

She made her first painting (a portrait of the cow) with mud and cow dung on a rock. Then she painted on the walls of her house, on pumpkins and on whatever surfaces she could find. One day one of her sons, on his monthly visit from Tehran, brought her paper and paint. From that time Mokarrameh has painted constantly.


Now her home overflows with her colorful work, with paintings telling stories from the Qu’ran, the Bible and her life. Interwoven are bitter sweet tails; bickering between wives about their husband- similar to Mokarrameh’s own grievance at being sold into marriage at such a young age.

At first the neighbors were not so sure about her work- it was not clear if someone, particularly a woman, ought to be painting all these religious scenes.

From an interview conducted by Mrs. Holly (an American artist who directed a documentary about Mokarrameh) :

“For 4 years I would only paint at night and if I had an unexpected visitor, I would hide everything very quickly… The mentality was that a farmer should have nothing to do with paper.”

“I always have something to do. In the house I either clean up or paint. I never sit idle and I do not take a nap in the afternoon like the other women.”

Mokarrameh’s first painting exhibition was held in Seyhoon Art gallery in 1995, Tehran.

She won the Jury’s special award at the Roshd Film Festival along with a special prize of the Art-Literature Village Festival; also she was chosen as the women of the year 2001 by 19th international conference of Iranian Women’s Studies Foundation.

“Mokarrameh Dreams and Memories” is the name of documentary regarding her life and works, directed by well known Iranian director, Ebrahim Mokhtari; it has been screened at several international festivals.

Mokarrameh Ghanbari died at the age of 77 on October 24 in Babol. She was buried in her house.

Recently Fox News has said that they have been working on a screenplay of her life story. Meryl Streep might play the artist in the movie.


For more of her paintings please visit her website.


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