Shirin Neshat, Iran and the condition of women

Iranian artist forced to live in exile, Shirin Neshat she managed to share her story and her personal challenge with the world as a woman who is denied the opportunity to express herself and live freely. Through her works and her life, Shirin continues to contribute to the political change of Iran courageously denouncing with her art the female condition of her country, the gaps in democracy and the role of the Western world. His thought is well expressed in all of his creations, especially in eight works that more than others represent his ideas.

Shirin Neshat, the power of ideas against the rigor of the Islamic world

Exhibited in museums and art galleries around the world, the works by Shirin Neshat have made her one of the most celebrated Iranian artists abroad. She recounts her life and what could be the life of many women in her country of origin with images and videos to show the complexity of conditions of Muslim womenthe relationship with the male universe and, in particular, that between the Islamic culture and the western one, so different yet so similar to each other. The artist expresses her thoughts with decidedly courageous photographs and films, with which she tackles all the themes dear to her. Let’s see which are the works that have most marked the life of this one daring Iranian video artist.

Women of Allah

When Shirin Neshat go back to Iran, after ten years of absence, it is 1990 and the country has definitely changed: it has become one Islamic republic which presents a dualistic political and institutional system characterized by traits Democrats but also dictatorial. It is in this context that the artist feels the urgent need to communicate what has become ofIran, and does so through art, which he has learned to use as a weapon. In “Women of Allah”, the protagonists of his black and white photographs are Iranian women and especially their bodies.

The choice is not accidental: for the Islamic culture, in fact, the body is a symbol of sin, sexuality and shame for this the woman must be covered from head to toe. The photographer lingers and investigates the faces, hands and feet of women and portrays them with an expression that indicates their readiness for action. Emblematic of the series is the shot entitled “Speechless”, in which the artist has taken a half-face: the woman’s gaze is still and speaks for itself, as it is covered with writings that seem engraved on the skin and which recall the words of contemporary Iranian writers. It is also through them that the artist intends to denounce any form of prejudice and censorship present in Iran.

The shadow under the web

This is the year in which Shirin Neshat decides to experiment with the video medium with “The shadow under the web”. Unlike the photos, the artist gives a precise context to his figures, always attributable to theIraneven when shooting videos in Mexico, Morocco or Tunisia. In this first work of hers she is herself the protagonist: she is seen in chadori.e. the Iranian traditional cloak, walk the streets of a city. Here he focuses in a more immersive way on the relationship between spaces and people, on how one interacts and relates to the places one visits, be they public, private or religious. A person’s body, depending on the culture it belongs to, can undergo the social rules of an environment and its limitations, and it relates to them by closing or opening itself in turn. This will to research and to opposition between cultures comes from his long stay in the United Stateswestern nation par excellence and which he will take as an example for his subsequent works.

Women without men

This first feature film is worth the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Always inspired by the words of an Iranian writer, Shahrnush Parsipurthe film sees at the center of the action four women who live in theIran of the 50sduring the coup that causes the deposition of the prime minister Mossadeq in favor of Pahlavi shah. In his film, the artist accurately reconstructs and quotes the revolution through archival photos and radio news, and the history of the country is intertwined with that of the four protagonists for denounce the repression of rights which led to the transformation of the female condition. Shirin Neshat here he shows his desire to return to a democratic and secular state as well as the responsibilities ofWest in the change undergone byIran.

Illusions & Mirrors, Sarah, Roja: Dreamers trilogy

This trilogy presents three short films brought together in one. In them Shirin Neshat wants to tell how i dreams of Iranian women easily break against the reality of Islamic culture.

Inspired by her own experience as a woman outside the box, the artist brings out the dualism of her condition of exile in the West. Through the characters of the shorts and their stories, the soul of the artist is perceived, her dreams and nightmares and the anxieties of a migrant and refugee. Of the first video “Illusions & Mirrors” she is the protagonist Natalie Portman, which is guided by a blurred character towards a stately home in ruins: here the Neshat just use the visual effects to create a surreal atmosphere. In the second short, “Sarah” is interpreted by the artist Sarah Issakharian which is at the center of a succession of non-linear scenes, used to give life to the disorienting vision of a dream. “Roja”, on the other hand, is a video more focused onIran and on the artist’s broken dreams played by writer Roja Heydar Pour, also among the first Iranian immigrants to the United States. This third short seems to focus more on the unconscious of the Neshat who seeks to unite his relationship with the Western culture and its Iranian identity.

shirin neshat

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Looking for Oum Kulthum

Miter is an Iranian director who nurtures the dream of making a film dedicated to Egyptian singer Oum Kulthum, popular and loved throughout the Arab world but not known at all by the western world. In this work, Shirin Neshat superimposes dreamlike images on historical reconstructions of the singer’s life: the viewer is transported into a space-time labyrinth precisely by the voice of Oum Kalthoum, of which a more intimate and nostalgic side directly linked to is revealed power of his stage presence and to that desire for freedom common to all Muslim women. There Kulthum she was capable of sending her listeners into raptures and hypnotizing them with her music, yet she herself wondered how she could do it. There Neshat focuses her video on the research of the singer’s fragility and uncertainties and builds a unconventional biopic which presents the myth of the Egyptian artist with the intention of also revealing the woman behind the legend.

shirin neshat

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Land of Dreams

In the near future, the United States have closed their borders to emigrants and decide to control citizens through the tracking their dreams. Simin is an Iranian-American woman who works for a major government agency tasked with recording the dreams of Americans to understand and control them from within their subconscious. Simin she is one of the best agents but, unaware of the true purpose of her job, she tries to capture dreams by photographing them and secretly impersonating them in get to be able to publish them on social networks. During his journey, he meets mark, a wanderer with a free soul, and Alan, a cynical detective moved by the typical American spirit of adventure. This feature film represents one of the most personal works of Shirin Neshat through which the inner, emotional and moral conflict by the same artist who does not identify herself as an integral part of either American or Islamic culture.


In 2018 the work “Pulse” also arrived in Italy in the evocative spaces of the Ca’ Granda burial ground in Milan. The location, with a strong visual and emotional impact for the spectators, made the video installation by the artist even more immersive and touching: the viewer tiptoes into a woman’s room, presented as a sort of crypt. There title beat it’s that of a radio song that drives the movement of the camera around the room. The music chosen by Neshat is performed by the sublime voice of Susan Deyhim who interprets the verses of a mystical poet of the thirteenth century, in which it is underlined how the human being is too tied to the material goods of earthly life, neglecting a higher good. The eye of the video camera gets closer and closer to the woman showing her yearning and loneliness. In the end, even when the camera leaves the room, only the pulsation that echoes in the viewer’s head remains.

Woman Life Freedom

It is in the center of London and exactly at Piccadilly Circus That Shirin Neshat unveiled her digital work “Woman Life Freedom” last year. In reality it is a work in which the artist has skilfully reworked and re-presented two more of his own previous jobs, i.e. “Moon Song” and “Unveiling”, both of which are part of her best-known series of photographs, and perhaps the one to which she is most closely linked, namely “Women of Allah”. The first photograph shows two hands covered in Persian writing with open palms facing the viewer, displaying two rifle bullets as a sign of offering. In the second, however, it is just there same artist to be the protagonist in a self-portrait in black and white and covered with writings taken from the verses of poetess Forough Farrokhzad. Once again the Neshat he used his art to vindicate Iranian women’s right to freedom.

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