Shirin Neshat's art at UC Berkeley Museum
By By Maryam Ovissi
September 28, 2000
The beauty of communicating a personal experience is when it crosses
a fine line, unveils the human condition and becomes universal. This is
Shirin Neshat's genius.
Many contemporary artists dream to be where Neshat is now. She is recognized
around the world as one of the most innovative, thought-provoking and exciting
contemporary artists of our time. She aggressively and poetically explores
a taboo topic -- religion, and more specifically, Islam.
Born in Qazvin, Iran, Neshat has returned to the University of California,
Berkeley, where she studied art. Her dual-screen sound and film installation
titled Turbulent, which was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion
Award at the Venice Biennale last year, is being shown at the university
Inspired by a visit to Istanbul, Turbulent addresses the social,
political, and psychological dimensions of women's experiences in contemporary
Islamic societies. It actively resists stereotypical representations, exploring
instead the complex intellectual and religious forces that shape the identity
of Muslim women throughout the world.
Neshat visited Iran visited Iran in 1990 for the first since the revolution
and found the country dramatically altered. In an interview with Frances
Richard, she said "It was probably one of the most shocking experiences
I have ever had... The change was both frightening and exciting; I had
never been in a country that was so ideologically based. It was a strange
She has utilized her impressions of both Iran and Islam as topics of
inspiration and exploration. Her early works were primarily oversized black
and white photographs of covered women (usually herself) and close ups
of various body parts (hands, feet, faces) with lines and lines of calligraphy
written on top of the images.
These images tended to be up close and personal encounters with Islam,
women and Iran. They did not necessarily tell a story but they evoked emotions
and questions. Neshat's women have always been presented with strength;
she balances notions of feminism with fundamentalism in such a way that
a viewer is not always aware of the experience at hand.
In recent years Neshat has been working with video, a new medium introduced
and made famous by Bill Viola. Her videos very much tell the personal story
of her experiences in Iran, but are almost all filmed in Morocco and Turkey.
She utilizes music and sounds but almost without any words -- an approach
that is, in her own words, "simple, concise, poetic, minimalist and
powerful as it criticizes society without claiming to do so."
You can visit Neshat's installation at Berkeley. The exhibit will be
through November 12. On Sunday, November 5, at 3 pm, Neshat will present
a talk discussing her interest in filmmaking and her installation.
Click on images to see larger photos