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Shirin Neshat's art at UC Berkeley Museum

By By Maryam Ovissi
September 28, 2000
The Iranian

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 museum.

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 adjustment..."

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.

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