Shirin Neshat was born in the religious town of Qazvin, Iran in 1957 to a wealthy family. Her journey to becoming an artist is a complex and interesting story. The amazing artist’s films, videos, and photographs are featured in the top museums around the world. Neshat’s commentary on the Muslim world’s social and religious beliefs with an emphasis on men and woman relationships- continues to spark discussion and fascination.
On Tuesday March 19th, the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive presented a lecture by Shirin Neshat titled: FROM PHOTOGRAPHY TO CINEMA. The talk by the petite artist donning thick black eye liner lasted under 2 hours in length with engaging and intelligent discussion. As a result, time passed by quickly to the packed crowd in attendance.
The discussion started with the viewing of Neshat’s 1999 video: Rapture. The two-channel, black and white projection features 11 minutes of men in an abandoned Moroccan fortress on the left and women in a vast empty desert on the right. A dance, dialogue, and war of nonverbal communication develops between both sides. The men are dressed in crisp white long sleeved shirts and black pants while the women wear black veils. Drums and chanting highlight the men’s projection, while the music of Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim seeps through the women’s side. At the end, a small group of women are “freed” on a boat in open sea while the men watch from afar.
After the powerful video, Neshat started discussing her undergraduate and graduate experience at UC Berkeley. Neshat: “I didn’t have the intellectual maturity to make the work at 20 years old. My time at UC Berkeley was the same time as the hostage crisis in Iran.” After school, she took 10 years off from art before starting again. During that time she visited Iran and declared that her home made her automatically “political.”
Neshat shared with the audience photo stills of her upcoming video featuring actress Natalie Portman. In the black and white images, Portman is shown following a male figure in an outside environment into a mansion. Neshat describes that the video explores the psychological breakdown of a woman through anxiety and fear stuck between a reality and dream state. The images were teasers and the audience was hoping to see the entire video. However, the artist displayed an uneasiness, self-conscious, and coy behavior to share.
Shirin stressed that her art is nomadic because she doesn’t live in one place for too long. As a result, this statement was no surprise: “I pioneered my own way…unfaithful to any medium.” To me, her interpretation of home or art isn’t just one place or medium but what the world has to offer.
The definition of rapture according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is an expression or manifestation of ecstasy or passion, a state or experience of being carried away by overwhelming emotion, or a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to a knowledge of divine things. Neshat is unfaithful to the conventional, and that’s what makes her such a great artist. Leaving the audience wanting more without the commitment, judgement, or fear.