Linocut print on textile titled 'Who is this Hossein the world is crazy about?' (Object)



Linocut print on linen. Made in the style of 'pardeh' (Persian for 'curtain') or 'coffeehouse' paintings depicting scenes from the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala (in modern central Iraq) in 680 AD. While most extant paintings date to the late 19th-early 20th century and were executed with oil paints on canvas, this modern work departs from tradition through the use of the linocut technique and Zenderoudi's unconventional interpretation of commonly depicted scenes. An inscription in Persian along the border of the work repeats, 'Who is this Hossein the world is crazy about?' until it reaches the bottom of the frame, where the inscription ends with, 'Who is this flame (candle), for which all souls are moths?' The artist's signature is written from right to left in an upward direction in a vertical panel at lower left, just within the inscriptional frame.

Object type:


Museum number:



Middle East & North Africa Modern Art


1958 ((or 1959))






Length: 228.52 cm Width: 148.50 cm


Inscription details: inscription (Bordering the work) in Persian in cursive script Inscription quoted: 'Who is this Hossein the world is crazy about?' 'Who is this flame [candle], for which all souls are moths?' Inscription note: The first phrase is repeated around the frame of the work while the second appears once only at the bottom left portion of the frame.



Associated names:

Named in inscription: Imam Husayn

Acquisition names:

Purchased from: Bijan Saffari With contribution from: Contemporary and Modern Middle Eastern Art acquisition group (CaMMEA)~With contribution from: Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund~With contribution from: Dr Farhad Farjam~With contribution from: Edward Eisler~With contribution from: Maryam Eisler

Acquisition date:


Curator's comments:

This lino printed linen pardeh (Persian for ‘curtain’) represents scenes from the stories surrounding the martyrdom of Hossein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, at the Battle of Karbala in modern Iraq. On the 10th of Muharram AH 61 (10th October 680 AD), Hossein led a resistance against what Shi`a Muslims believe was the illegitimate rule of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I (r. 680–683), but the battle ended in the deaths of Hossein and his followers. This account of Hossein’s martyrdom inspired annual re-enactments through ceremonial processions and ritual theatre productions, often performed against a portable backdrop (the ‘curtain’), which could be rolled up and transported from location to location. Most such works are painted on canvas and a number survive from the late 19th–early 20th century Qajar period in Iran. They often illustrate similar scenes to those shown on the present print, designed for a reciter (pardeh-dar) to point to relevant images as he recounted the story. In his rendition of the Karbala tragedy, Zenderoudi both complements and breaks convention with Iranian tradition by tackling a well-known subject using a new technique and style and framing the composition with the repeated phrase that also forms the title of the work. On the one hand, the numerous scenes illustrated in Who is this Hossein the World is crazy about? tell an important story in Islamic history and feature one of the most important religious figures in Islam. Hossein is the subject of a number of Persian and Indian paintings in the British Museum collection made between the 16th and 18th centuries; calligraphic works on paper dating from the 16th century to the present day; and popular posters produced in Iran within the last few decades. Illustrations and texts about the Battle of Karbala recall this important event in Islamic history with great efforts to convey the anguish and despair associated with the tragedy. Zenderoudi takes this effort a step further with his own almost satirical interpretation of the tragedy, abandoning colour in favour of the stark contrast of black and white, and adding more tension to the work with his linear compositions and haunting, awkward figures. As a founding member of the Iranian Saqqakhaneh movement, which brought Iran’s heritage into the sphere of contemporary art in the late 1950s, Zenderoudi and his body of work play an important role in the history of Middle Eastern art. Who is this Hossein the world is crazy about? is one of the earliest works of modern Iranian art to depart from the hitherto dominant modern school of painting led by the Qajar master Kamal ol-Molk. It is also one of Zenderoudi’s earlier works, marking the beginning of his career before his works became even more linear and abstract in style. Coupled with the fact that it is one of only two known such works by the artist, Who is this Hossein the world is crazy about? occupies an important transitional role in Zenderoudi’s oeuvre. (L. Akbarnia, 7 Nov 2011)