Shirin Neshat

Born: 1957, Qazvin (Iran)

The main theme of Shirin Neshat’s works is the status of women in Islamic culture. She was born in Iran in 1957, but went to America to study in the 1970s. For a long time, she was unable to return home because of the Iranian Revolution, when the constitutional monarchy was overthrown and replaced by an Islamic theocracy.

When Neshat was finally able to visit Iran in the 1990s, she was shocked at the disparity between the sexes. Under the new Islamic regime, only a man has the right to make public statements. A woman looks after the house, where she is without a voice or rights: like an animal with only primitive instincts. Only in one case is she equal to a man – when she takes up arms and takes part in a jihad or holy war.

Neshat dared to be equal to men in another area: speaking out publicly and creating works of art. Unfortunately, she has no opportunity to exhibit her works in her own homeland – except for one rare occasion when the regime was slightly more relaxed. Shirin’s sex, the critical and political nature of her works, and the almost complete absence of gallery spaces in Iran make exhibitions there virtually impossible.

In such photographs as the Women of Allah series, Neshat depicts a Middle Eastern woman, often holding a weapon. The body or the background is usually covered in holy scriptures: while understanding that Islam and its laws have contributed to the lack of freedom for women, Shirin still cherishes her religion as one of the foundations of her life.

In 2009, Shirin Neshat contributed Rapture to the VIDENIE exhibition of video art at the PERMM (Perm Museum of Contemporary Art). The Rapture video is the second part of a trilogy in which the artist highlights the contrast between the positions of a man and woman, placing them on two separate screens. In the first part, Turbulence, a man stands on a stage and sings a traditional conservative song of love, set to the verses of Rumi. He sings in front of an audience consisting entirely of men. The woman sings to an empty hall, reminding us of the Islamic law forbidding women from performing in public.

Random articles