Thursday, January 31, 2008

Barbara Gladstone Gallery: “Shirin Neshat”

The small exhibit of Shirin Neshat’s latest works at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery centers on two short films and five large photographs by the artist whose works focuses on questions of gender, religion and nation. Neshat was born in Iran in 1957, where she received a westernized education and was eventually sent to the United States to complete her higher education. At this time, the Iranian Revolution began, and Neshat found herself in exhile from Iran for the next eleven years. It was not until 1990 that Neshat was able to return to Iran, experiencing the changes that had occurred to the country and to herself during the years of the revolution.

Neshat’s position as a woman in between cultures and countries greatly defines the subject of her work. In this latest exhibition, Neshat presents two short films based on her ongoing exploration of Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men. The novel centers around five different women characters living in Iran in 1953 and dealing with oppression, and Neshat has been working on exploring the psychologies of these characters since 2003, through video installations, photography, short films and a feature length film currently in progress.

The two short films presented at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery lie at the center of the exhibition. The narratives focus on the characters of Muniz, a young woman who feels passionately about social justice, and Faezeh, a religious woman whose sense of identity is crushed by rape. The two films, shown in separate rooms of the gallery, are aesthetically seductive: the women are beautiful and full of dignity, the landscapes both desolate and magical, the images flow in a slow rhythm and each frame is planned in great detail. In one scene, for instance, Faezeh walks into a house where a dining room table, set for a great feast, has decayed with time into a composition of dead flowers and rotting foods, reminiscent of a classical still nature.

The beauty of the aesthetic choices in Ms. Neshat’s films contrasts the violence of the subjects and plots of the shorts: rape, homicide, suicide, violence, political tyranny, and more. Yet the films present characters that coexist with the circumstances by creating their own perspective on things. Furthermore, the characters bring in the viewer, no matter how difficult or personal the issue. In Neshat’s works, the women speak in whispers or very softly, creating a sense of intimacy with the viewer. The small rooms where the films are projected further contribute to the sense of privacy of the narratives. Meanwhile, the fluid Persian voiceovers, together with the melodic soundtracks, lull the audience into a dream like state, where the real and the surreal come together and imagination becomes a strategy for redefining identity and for political resistance. As for Ms. Neshat, both characters in the two short films live in between worlds: the political and the personal, the imaginary and the real, the individual and the national. Neshat’s elegant films offer a great contribution to the interpretation and representation of Iranian identity and women’s issues in our time.

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