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Har keh shod mahram-e del dar haram e yar bemand. —Hafez PERHAPS it should not be surprising that by far the most successful restoration of the erotic to the publicly camouflaged body, in the globally celebrated art of Shirin Neshat, should come from a constitutionally expatriate artist. What the emancipation of the erotic from this arrested sensuality means is restoring to the body its destabilizing private palpitations otherwise inhibited in its public implication either in a politics of power or in an aesthetics of resistance to that power. Perhaps it is precisely the aterritorial texture of the colonial politics of power, which has resulted in the symbolic mutation of body into the principal site of political violence in the first place, that has required an expatriate, normatively aterritorial, artist to restore to the body its private agitations. Shirin Neshat was born and bred in Iran, but came to creative effervescence in the nomanland of New York, where the private subversions of public pieties gnaw at the edges of the politics of power without submitting to an aesthetics of impiety. By revealing the erotic visuality of the body, Shirin Neshat has restored its corporeal energy up against both its political metaphorization into the principal site of state violence and its contrapuntal aesthetic metamorphosis into a sight of resistance to that violence. In its SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 3 (Fall 2003) It Was in China, Late One Moonless Night HAMID DABASHI Production stills from Logic of the Birds, 2001. © 2001 Shoja Azari, Sussan Deyhim, Ghasem Ebrahimian, Shirin Nesat. Photos taken by Larry Barns. Reprinted courtesy Barbara Gladstone. colonial context, the Islamic body has been denied its corporeal materiality, mutated into a politics of power or aesthetics of resistance to power, in a hermetically sealed culture that has historically given birth to its own palindromic mimesis and now to a globally celebrated pararealism in Iranian cinema. In a stunning creative career that has spanned over almost two decades, Shirin Neshat is singularly responsible for having successfully punctured that hermetically sealed culture, deflated its inflated self-absorption , and dared it to “step outside” from the self-suffocating air of its own environment, out into the open air of a public space globalized beyond a particular politics of power or a marked aesthetics of resistance to that power, where the categorical differences between private realities and public truth can be settled in completely different terms. In doing so, Shirin Neshat has defied two simultaneous inhibitions: First the public truth that since Kant and Hegel has constituted the colonizing confidence of the (European) subject, and second the politics of power that in response to that colonial modernity has massively mutated her ancestral faith into a site of mere ideological resistance to colonialism . Her art, as a result, is destabilizing in two simultaneously subversive and paradoxically complementary ways. First, by exposing the private agitations of the body and its environs that had to be repressed for the Kantian Public Reason to become viable; and second, by retrieving the arrested erotics of the body that were camouflaged by the colonial politics of power that had mutated it into a site of state violence or a sight of aesthetic resistance to that violence. By asking her ancestral culture to “step outside,” she is publicly engaged in a visual emancipation of the arrested sexuality and repressed erotics of her ancestral culture, and by doing so she is restoring to the body its corporeal materiality, retrieving it from its political metaphorization into a principal site of violence, without simultaneously subjecting it to an aesthetic metamorphosis into a site of resistance to that violence, as her counterparts do in much of the cinema that comes from Islamic societies. She resists 936 SOCIAL RESEARCH and subverts that violence by way of releasing the arrested sensuality of the body prior to its political and aesthetic mutations in political or aesthetic terms. If this is the characteristics of Shirin Neshat’s work in general, in her “Logic of the Birds” (2001) she goes for the jugular, for here she offers a radical restoration of the visual otherwise repressed in her ancestral culture, staging it in full public view of a globalized audience that...


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