Shirin Neshat

(b. 1957)

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(1957– )

Iranian photographer and video artist. Born in Qazvin, she moved to the United States, where she studied art at the University of California. She graduated in 1983 but she has said that her ‘real education’ as an artist was working at the Storefront in New York, an alternative space for art and architecture run by her husband. Because of the Islamic revolution she did not return home until 1991. Although she has taken the Islamic world as her principal theme, for political reasons she has chiefly worked in America, Morocco, and Tunisia. Nonetheless it was her contact with Iran that provided her with the inspiration for the series of photographs which were her first important work. Entitled Women of Allah, they depicted a woman wearing the traditional loose black robes compulsory in Iran since the revolution. In certain of the images a weapon is present. There are inscriptions in Farsi, either on the surface of the photograph or on the woman's skin. Spectators unfamiliar with the language tend to assume that they are taken from the Qur'an. In fact they are militant feminist texts. These works have been acclaimed for their challenging of stereotypes. As Igor Zabel puts it, ‘Neshat's aim is not to dispose of media clichés, but to recompose and reorganize them in ways that produce more flexible and complex readings.’ Neshat has, in fact, been criticized by some for not making a more unambiguous statement against the repression of women in Islamic societies. However, quite apart from their political resonance, her photographs are also strikingly beautiful images, a consideration of some significance to the artist who has said ‘in Islam beauty is critical, as it directly ties to ideas of spirituality and love of God’. Neshat has also made a number of spectacular video installations, sometimes collaborating with the composer Philip Glass. In 2009 she made the film Women without Men which concerns the life of women in Iran in the years following the coup of 1953.

Further Reading

A. C. Danto, ‘Shirin Neshat’, Bomb (fall 2000)I. Zabel, ‘Women in Black’, Art Journal, vol. 60 no. 4 (2001)

Subjects: Art.

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