Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Women You Should Know - Shirin Neshat by Stacy Hope

"Being political is an integral part of being Iranian. Our lives are defined by politics."
~ Shirin Neshat
Women You Should Know:
Shirin Neshat 
by Stacy Hope

Silence and darkness heighten the senses as I enter the art space; I am greeted by two screens mounted on opposite walls, and me, smack in the centre. Whipping my head back and forth between them, two figures appear suddenly: a man on one screen, and a figure of what is soon revealed to be a woman on the other.

The auditorium in which the man performs is filled with male admirers, fans, from whom he faces away in defiant confidence. He is man! He need not witness the reaction or present himself to them. He begins to sing a beautiful Rumi love song that is, as he knew it would be, well received. Finally, he turns to acknowledge his audience, when his attention is diverted back towards his original position. It is not the woman’s turn; she is confronted by empty seats which she faces in need of addressing something imagined. She begins. Wordless sounds escape her mouth, haunting, guttural and consumed by emotional gumption that I have still yet to understand.

There is something that sets apart artists from countries where freedom of expression is a foreign concept, reserved for Western audiences who like their swear words to be accompanied by coffee and cigarettes. It’s not that they have more to discuss, on the contrary they have less to talk about, resulting in a concentrated frustration that easily makes them the expert. Iranian artists just happen to be among those who depict this trait immaculately—politics tends to be their vice. Shirin Neshat is one such artist.

I’d like to say she was born on a cold Persian night to strictly devout conservative parents, but that is quite far from the truth. In fact, one could attribute her current perspective to her parents who romanticized Western ideals and freedom, only to reject the values of the Iranian state. Having moved to the US to study art in LA, eventually enrolling at UC Berkeley, she then remained in a self-imposed exile from Iran. Neshat’s displacement and replacement is constantly explored in her works. The idea of duality and being caught between two worlds, cultures, ideals, perspectives, etc. is a theme that resonates in both the Iranian reality as well as hers.

Neshat started to explore this duality and meaning, challenging Iranian and American perceptions of Islam through photography, then with film installations, and finally graduating onto making films like her most recent Women Without Men. Her subject matter is almost always about women and how they are measured against men. As in Turbulent, and other film installations like Fervour and Rapture, she explores the tenacity of the female psyche to overcome—be it the revolution or their imposed roles in society. Hence, it is no surprise I chose Neshat. It is also no surprise, if you are familiar with my own personhood, that I am drawn to her and to her muffled expressions of realism, that may first appear vacant or forced, but can later be revealed as truly something of great beauty.

“Magical realism allows an artist like myself to inject layers of meaning without being obvious. In American culture, where there is freedom of expression, this approach may seem forced, unnecessary and misunderstood. But this system of communication has become very Iranian.”

Stacy Hope is a Guyanese Anthropologist, Self-defined artist, Blogger for the Conscience Collective and an Independent Consultant working with the United Nations, World Bank, various NGOs and private sector. Her main areas of expertise are gender mainstreaming, indigenous peoples rights, and mining policies (amongst others).

1 comment:

Rebecca M. said...

After reading this post I went to watch the TED Talk video, and I am now a fan. Great Inspiration!