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Posted on: July 31, 2017

Iranian Artist Spotlight

Shirin Neshat: Visual Artist

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Shirin Neshat is an Iranian born artist known for her work in film and photography. She was raised in the religious town of Qazrin in north-western Iran in what she called a very “warm, supportive Muslim family environment.” Her physician father encouraged his daughters to be “be an individual, to take risks, to learn, to see the world.” She grew up with a lot of Westernization and Western ideologies.

Neshat left Iran in 1975 to study art at UC Berkeley where she received her BA, MA, and MFA. After college she moved to New York City where she worked at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, an interdisciplinary alternative space in Manhattan. While working there she had exposure to artists, architects, philosophers and it helped to reignite her passion for art, which she hadn’t created in almost 10 years. After making her first trip back to Iran in 1990, she began making art starting with photographs in 1993.

Neshat’s earliest works were photographs, such as the Unveiling (1993) and Women of Allah (1993–97) series, which explore notions of femininity in relation to Islamic fundamentalism and militancy in her home country. The series was comprised of large, evocative, black-and-white photographs with Persian calligraphy inscribed on them, many of which show women in veils holding weapons, at times powerful and aggressive, and at others, withdrawn and submissive.

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Unveiling (1993)

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Rebellious Silence (1994)

She then shifted into video work that was less overtly political, but still hint at the restrictive nature of Islamic laws regarding women while still remaining open to interpretation. Her video installations, a trilogy comprising of Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999), and Fervor (2000)—utilize dual video screens to portray abstract oppositions based around gender and society, the individual and the group.

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Rapture (1999)

Most recently, Shirin made her directorial debut in Women Without Men, a film adapted Shahrnush Parsipur novel of the same name.The film profiles the lives of four women living in Tehran in 1953, during the American-backed coup that returned the Shah of Iran to power.

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Shirin Neshat is still an active artist working based out of New York City.