Artist Shirin Neshat’s work has been defined by her exile from her motherland and her hybrid identity as an Iranian-American. Born into an affluent Iranian family in 1957, Shirin attended a Catholic boarding school in Tehran where she was exposed to western ideologies from an early age. As a teenager Shirin left Iran for America to study art at UC Berkley, where she completed her BA, MA and MFA.
However, Shirin did not begin to create art until the 1990s, after a return trip to her home country where she was left shocked by the difference between the Iran of her childhood and its new post-revolution reality. This visit unleashed a wave of creativity and inspired her early work, including photographs such as Unveiling (1993) and her celebrated series Women of Allah (1993-97). In recent years Shirin has turned to film as a creative medium, directing Women Without Men(2009) for which she won a Silver Lion for best director at the Venice film festival. More recently, she co-directed Looking for Oum Kulthum (2017). With Shirin often capturing her subjects in black and white, visual contrasts and duality are a frequent theme in her work. For Shirin “being political is an integral part of being Iranian”, and her artwork often powerfully juxtaposes the various identities associated with Islam and the West.
Shirin’s work has been unique in its ability to shed a light on women’s experiences in contemporary Islamic societies. Through her photography and film projects Shirin has been able to raise the profile of women in her birth country and explore the social and political unrest of the region.
By Safia Munro