artist / participant
In her work the photographer, film and video artist Shirin Neshat concentrates on the ambiguity of boundaries in Islam – boundaries between men and women, the sacred and profane, and reality and magic. Shirin Neshat was born in Iran in 1957, and presently lives and works in New York. The way in which she gives form to her theme makes the tensions between her original background and Western culture visible. In Stedelijk Museum CS six works which provide a good picture of the development of her career over the past fifteen years are to be seen. The exhibition ‘Shirin Neshat’ will run at Stedelijk Museum CS through April 16, 2006.
When she was 17 Shirin Neshat moved from the land of her birth to Los Angeles, to begin her studies at an art academy. The Iranian Revolution broke out while she was in the United States, and Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. Under his regime women were required to wear the chador. Sixteen years later, in 1990 she revisited her fatherland for the first time. This renewed acquaintance made deep impression on her. Since then Neshat focused on investigating and commenting on her relation to her homeland and Islam, and in particular the position of women and male/female relationships. For this she draws on two very different cultural backgrounds, using their insights to examine large, underlying social themes. One striking element in her work is the contrast between contemporary Western art and the traditional visual vocabulary of the land of her birth.
The male/female opposition plays an important role in both Turbulent (1998) and Rapture (1999). In Rapture a group of men have come together in an old fort in the desert. They pray, argue, play cards and are entirely engrossed in their collective activities until they are distracted by the wailing and lamentation of a group of women. The work is projected on two screens opposite each other. Like the group of men, the group of women also appear to be absorbed in rituals. Kneeling in their chadors, they form a black triangle in the desert, raising their hands toward heaven and bowing into the sand. Suddenly the women separate from one another and with a swelling sound in the background they run to a beach where, with the men waving farewell, they sail away in a motorboat to an unknown destination. Turbulent also deals with the relation between men and women in Islamic society, governed by strict rules. In this work too different film images are projected on two screens. The story is told without words, and whenever there is anything spoken, it is in Iranian.
Music is an important aspect in her video projections. For instance, for Passage (2001), a lyrical work with strong symbolic reference to transition rituals, she worked closely together with the American composer Philip Glass. Her most recent works, Mahdokht (2004) and Zarin (2005), are the first two instalments of a projected five-part project based on the 1989 novel Women without Men by the author Shahmush Parsipur, whose work is banned in Iran. The book comprises the stories of five women who all suffer under the situations in which they live. Each of them faces the threat of insanity or suicide, and walks away. In the end they meet one another in a garden where they form their own community. The book was a slap in the face of Iran’s rulers in the Khomeini era, and was forbidden. While in the earlier works Neshat explores strong contrasts in style and colour, her approach in the latest two works is magical realism. The Last Word (2003), produced a year before Mahdokht, is her first more narrative work, and a metaphor for the triumph of the imagination, of fiction, of the feminine over the absurd, Kafkaesque constructed power of so-called reality.
In 1999 Neshat won the Golden Lion during the Venice Biënnale. Since then her work has been shown all around the world. Her interviews reveal that she does not wish to be a model of a politically correct, multicultural artist. Simply taking a political stance against the theocracy in Iran is not enough for her. The universal in an artwork is important; her works must have a general eloquence that stimulates her audience to reflection.
Bulletin Stedelijk Museum Bulletin 1, 2006, devotes attention to the exhibition ‘Shirin Neshat’. The Bulletin will appear in early March, and will be available in the Museum shop
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