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PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 24.3 (2002) 44-55

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Passage to Iran

Shirin Neshat interviewed by Babak Ebrahimian


Iranian artist Shirin Neshat was born in Qazvin in 1957 and now lives in New York City. She is a visual artist who has gained recognition for her photography, film, and video installations, working through a variety of textural material, to express complex philosophical ideas behind contemporary Islam and her country Iran. She is the winner of numerous awards, including the Grand Prix of the Kwangju Biennale in Korea (2000), and the Golden Lion First International Prize at the 48th Venice Biennale (1999). Her work has been widely shown and recognized in the United States as well in Europe and Asia. Neshat's films include the trilogy Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999), and Fervor (2000); Soliloquy (1999); Passage (2001); Pulse (2001); and Possessed (2001), seen recently at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, which represents her. Neshat's collaboratively developed live-performance installation, Logic of the Birds, was prepared for the Lincoln Center Festival in July 2002. Currently, she is working on a film installation in response to September 11.

Neshat has exhibited widely in major European and American cities. Among her most recent solo exhibitions are: Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal; Kunsthalle Wien; The Serpentine Gallery, London; The Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; The Art Institute of Chicago; and The Tate Gallery, London. She has been included in numerous international biennials, such as São Paulo, Sydney, Lyon, Venice, Istanbul, the Whitney, the Carnegie International, etc. She regularly participates in film festivals internationally such as the Chicago, San Francisco, Telluride, and Rotterdam. Neshat has won critical acclaim and has been featured in major international publications such as The New York Times, Artforum, Bomb, Flash Art, The Los Angeles Times, Le Monde, Art News, and others. Many of these reviews and articles have focused on Shirin Neshat's preoccupation with the representation of feminism, the veil, and the interaction between so-called traditional and modern values, which have led her to produce intense and sometimes "explosive" work. Babak Ebrahimian teaches literature and film at Columbia University. He has also directed numerous film and theatre productions. This interview was conducted in the winter of 2002. [End Page 44] I find your work visually stunning and its form is intricately linked with the specific social and political themes you are raising. What is your process of making films? What is your starting point? For example, how did you approach the trilogy, Turbulent, Rapture, and Fervor?

I was very interested in the subject of gender in relation to music. I wanted to make a piece that would open up a larger sociological discussion. Making these films was a way of layering the notion of gender and music with many things: conversations between the male and female, traditional and non-traditional music, and the whole creation of things. The trilogy was a way to search this bigger subject. I wished to create a dynamic between the masculine and feminine. People are mistaken when they think that I am insisting that there is an incredible separation between men and women, and that I am glorifying their opposition. That's not true. Rather, this is my system of creating opposites, and then bringing men and women together again. It is a reading of society, of the way it functions, how it treats women differently than men, and therefore of the female as opposed to the male position in relation to the social order.

In making Turbulent, I gained many tools. One was the impact of music. In my filmmaking, the usage of music constituted my language, and a unique way of storytelling. Music was also universal, as opposed to the texts I had been using in my previous works. With regard to form, I became interested in the idea of introducing the narrative, the cinematic experience, into the visual arts, thereby bringing the cinema closer to the visual arts. In this way, Turbulent became for me a major opening to...


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