Shirin Neshat, originally from Iran, is a woman artist of an international repute. She always challenges the notion of femininity in her video work, her films, and her installations. Many things have already been written about her much awarded film Women without Men in which we see women, with or without men, who question all forms of social control. The film was made after a novel written by author Shahrnush Parsipur.
In her series of photos Women of Allah and The Book of the Kings, she tackles the delicate subject of her cultural heritage – a certain emotional and intellectual commitment in which Iranian women make to honour their great civilization, while at the same time rebelling against that tradition. We see a similar kind of attitude in Marjane Satrapi’s work, primarily in her book and subsequent film Persepolis. Her paintings are dark and expressionistic, but extremely sophisticated. Neshat takes a different approach, imposing a more severe, black and white approach to the world where she came from. Her stance is even more traditional or nostalgic, as she left Iran at the age of 17 for the United States, and as such has maintained a complicated relationship to her native country.
Neshat combines in her images a mixture of slick western imagery with the letters in Farsi. She is aware of her rich tradition, but she never blatantly speaks of her anxiety nor makes an overtly political commentary. As she remembers ancient battlefields, warriors enraptured in the games of chess and strategy, and soldiers with their hearts pierced and bleeding, we are made highly aware of her outlook in this contemporary moment. Neshat is acutely aware of the fact that Iran is composed of different nations and various religions. As she depicts ancient rites of the Zoroastrians, we feel that she is close to that Tower of Silence where the dead bodies go to rest. The profound questions in regards to life and death are always at the center of her work. Her understanding of the complexities of this diverse international life are what keep her work at the forefront, positioning her amongst an elite group of contemporary artists.