Shirin Neshat

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Shirin Neshat
Neshat at the Viennale 2009
Born (1957-03-26) March 26, 1957 (age 66)
Qazvin, Imperial State of Iran
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA, MA, MFA)
Known forMixed media performance, video installations, photography
Notable workThe Shadow under the Web (1997),
Speechless (1996),
Women without Men (2004)[1] Rapture (1999)
MovementContemporary art
SpouseKyong Park (divorced)[2]
PartnerShoja Azari[2]
AwardsSilver Lion Venice Film Festival, Golden Lion Venice Biennale

Shirin Neshat (Persian: شیرین نشاط; born March 26, 1957)[3][4] is an Iranian photographer and visual artist who lives in New York City, known primarily for her work in film, video and photography.[5][6] Her artwork centers on the contrasts between Islam and the West, femininity and masculinity, public life and private life, antiquity and modernity, and bridging the spaces between these subjects.[1][7]

Since the Islamic Revolution, she has said that she has "gravitated toward making art that is concerned with tyranny, dictatorship, oppression and political injustice. Although I don’t consider myself an activist, I believe my art – regardless of its nature – is an expression of protest, a cry for humanity.”[8]

Neshat has been recognized for winning the International Award of the XLVIII Venice Biennale in 1999,[9] and the Silver Lion as the best director at the 66th Venice Film Festival in 2009,[10] to being named Artist of the Decade by Huffington Post critic G. Roger Denson.[11] Neshat is a critic in the photography department at the Yale School of Art.[12]

Early life and education[edit]

Neshat is the fourth of five children of wealthy parents, brought up in the religious city of Qazvin in north-western Iran[13] under a "very warm, supportive Muslim family environment",[14] where she learned traditional religious values through her maternal grandparents. Neshat's father was a physician and her mother a homemaker. Neshat said that her father "fantasized about the west, romanticized the west, and slowly rejected all of his own values; both her parents did. What happened, I think, was that their identity slowly dissolved, they exchanged it for comfort. It served their class".[13]

Neshat was enrolled in a Catholic boarding school in Tehran. According to Neshat, her father encouraged his daughters to "be an individual, to take risks, to learn, to see the world". He sent his daughters, as well as his sons to college to receive higher education.[14]

In 1975, Neshat left Iran to study art at University of California, Berkeley and completed her BA, MA and MFA degrees.[15] In college she studied art under Harold Paris and Sylvia Lark.[16] Neshat graduated from UC Berkeley in 1983, and soon moved to New York City. She quickly realized that making art wasn't her profession then. After meeting her future husband, who ran the Storefront for Art and Architecture, an alternative space in Manhattan, she dedicated ten years to working with him there.[17]

During this time, Neshat made a few attempts at creating art, which was subsequently destroyed. She was intimidated by the New York art scene and believed her art was not substantial. She states, "Those ten years I made practically no art, and the art I did make I was dissatisfied with and eventually destroyed."[17]

In 1990, Neshat returned to Iran, one year after Ayatollah Khomeini's death. "It was probably one of the most shocking experiences that I have ever had. The difference between what I had remembered from the Iranian culture and what I was witnessing was enormous. The change was both frightening and exciting; I had never been in a country that was so ideologically based. Most noticeable, of course, was the change in people's physical appearance and public behavior."[18]

Since the Storefront ran like a cultural laboratory, Neshat was exposed to creators — artists, architects, and philosophers; she asserts Storefront eventually helped reignite her interest in art. In 1993 Neshat began earnestly to make art again, starting with photography.[17]


Neshat's earliest works were photographs, such as the Unveiling (1993) and Women of Allah (1993–97) series, which explore notions of femininity about Islamic fundamentalism and militancy in her home country.[19] As a way of coping with the discrepancy between the culture that she was experiencing and that of the pre-revolution Iran in which she was raised, she began her first mature body of work, the Women of Allah series, portraits of women entirely overlaid by Persian calligraphy.[20]

Her work refers to the social, cultural and religious codes of Muslim societies and the complexity of certain oppositions, such as man and woman. Neshat often emphasizes this theme by showing two or more coordinated films concurrently, creating stark visual contrasts through motifs such as light and dark, black and white, male and female. Neshat has also made more traditional narrative short films, such as Zarin.

Shoja Azari, Shirin Neshat and Babak Payami at Tirgan Festival, 2013

The work of Neshat addresses the social, political and psychological dimensions of women's experience in contemporary Islamic societies. Although Neshat actively resists stereotypical representations of Islam, her artistic objectives are not explicitly polemical. Rather, her work recognizes the complex intellectual and religious forces shaping the identity of Muslim women throughout the world. Using Persian poetry and calligraphy, she examined concepts such as martyrdom, the space of exile, the issues of identity and femininity.

In 2001–02, Neshat collaborated with singer Sussan Deyhim and created Logic of the Birds, which was produced by curator and art historian RoseLee Goldberg. The full-length multimedia production premiered at the Lincoln Center Summer Festival in 2002 and toured to the Walker Art Institute in Minneapolis and Artangel in London. In this collaboration and her other projects that incorporate music, Neshat uses sound to help create an emotionally evocative and beautiful piece that will resonate with viewers of both Eastern and Western cultures. In an interview with Bomb magazine in 2000, Neshat revealed: "Music becomes the soul, the personal, the intuitive, and neutralizes the sociopolitical aspects of the work. This combination of image and music is meant to create an experience that moves the audience."[21]

When Neshat first came to use film, she was influenced by the work of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.[13] She directed several videos, among them Anchorage (1996) and, projected on two opposing walls: Shadow under the Web (1997), Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Soliloquy (1999).[9] Neshat's recognition became more international in 1999, when she won the International Award of the XLVIII Venice Biennale with Turbulent and Rapture,[9] a project involving almost 250 extras and produced by the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont which met with critical and public success after its worldwide avant-première at the Art Institute of Chicago in May 1999. With Rapture, Neshat tried for the first time to make pure photography with the intent of creating an aesthetic, poetic, and emotional shock. Games of Desire, a video and still-photography piece, was displayed between September 3 and October 3 at the Gladstone Gallery in Brussels before moving in November to the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris. The film, which is based in Laos, centers on a small group of elderly people who sing folk songs with sexual lyrics - a practice which had been nearing obsolescence.[22]

In 2009, she won the Silver Lion for best director at the 66th Venice Film Festival for her directorial debut Women Without Men,[10][23] based on Shahrnush Parsipur's novel of the same name. She said about the movie: "This has been a labour of love for six years. ... This film speaks to the world and to my country."[24] The film examines the 1953 British-American backed coup, which supplanted Iran's democratically elected government with a monarchy.[22]

In July 2009, Neshat took part in a three-day hunger strike at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in protest of the 2009 Iranian presidential election.[22]

In 2022, she joined protests about the Death of Mahsa Amini, by showing her work Woman Life Freedom, at Piccadilly Circus, and Pendry West Hollywood.[25]

Exhibitions and film festivals[edit]

Since her first solo exhibition, at Franklin Furnace in New York in 1993,[26] Neshat has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Annina Nosei Gallery, New York (1995);[27] Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2002); Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Dallas Museum of Art (2000); Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Serpentine Gallery, London; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León; and the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2005). In 2008, her solo exhibition "Women Without Men" opened at the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark, and traveled to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, and to the Kulturhuset, Stockholm. She was included in Prospect.1, the 2008 New Orleans Biennial, documenta XI, the 2000 Whitney Biennial, and the 1999 Venice Biennale. In 2012 Shirin Neshat had a Solo Exhibition in Singapore, Game of Desire at Art Plural Gallery.[28] Also in 2012, Shirin Neshat's photo, Speechless was purchased and exhibited by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[29] A major retrospective of Neshat's work, organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, opened 2013.[30] In 2014, she had an exhibition titled "Afterwards", at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art.[31] In 2019, The Broad Museum in Los Angeles presented a 30-year retrospective of Neshat's work: Shirin Neshat: I Will Greet the Sun Again.[32][33]

Since 2000, Neshat has also participated in film festivals, including the Telluride Film Festival (2000), Chicago International Film Festival (2001), San Francisco International Film Festival (2001), Locarno International Film Festival (2002), Tribeca Film Festival (2003), Sundance Film Festival (2003), and Cannes Film Festival (2008).[19]

In 2013, she was a jury member at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.[34]

In 2022, Neshat participated in the group exhibition "Eyes on Iran" at Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park, Roosevelt Island, New York; in response to the Mahsa Amini protests.[35] Other artists in the "Eyes on Iran" exhibition included Sheida Soleimani, Sepideh Mehraban, Shirin Towfiq, Icy & Sot, and Aphrodite Désirée Navab.[35]


Neshat was an artist in residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2000 and at MASS MoCA in 2001. In 2004, she was awarded an honorary professorship at the Universität der Künste, Berlin.[36] In 2006, she was awarded The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the arts, given annually to "a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life."[37]

In 2010, Neshat was named Artist of the Decade by Huffington Post critic G. Roger Denson, for "the degree to which world events have more than met the artist in making her art chronically relevant to an increasingly global culture," for reflecting "the ideological war being waged between Islam and the secular world over matters of gender, religion, and democracy," and because "the impact of her work far transcends the realms of art in reflecting the most vital and far-reaching struggle to assert human rights."[11]

In 2015, Neshat was selected and photographed by Annie Leibovitz as part of the 43rd Pirelli Calendar.[38]


At the 2017 Salzburg Festival, Neshat directed Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida, with Riccardo Muti as conductor and Anna Netrebko singing the main character.[39] Asked by the festival organizers about the particular challenge for an Iranian woman to stage a play that deals with the threats of political obedience and religion to private life and love, Neshat said, "Sometimes the boundaries between Aida and myself are blurred."


  • Turbulent, 1998. Two channel video/audio installation.[40]
  • Rapture, 1999. Two channel video/audio installation.
  • Soliloquy, 1999. Color video/audio installation with artist as the protagonist.
  • Fervor, 2000. Two channel video/audio installation.
  • Passage, 2001. Single channel video/audio installation.
  • Logic of the Birds, 2002. Multi-media performance.
  • Tooba, 2002. Two channel video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur's novel Women Without Men.
  • The Last Word, 2003. Single channel video/audio installation.[41]
  • Mahdokht, 2004. Three channel video/audio installation.
  • Zarin, 2005. Single channel video/audio installation.
  • Munis, 2008. Color video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur's novel Women Without Men.
  • Faezeh, 2008. Color video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur's novel Women Without Men.
  • Possessed, 2009. Black & white video/audio installation.
  • Women Without Men, 2009. Feature film based on Shahrnush Parsipur's novel Women Without Men.
  • OverRuled, 2011. Performance.[41]
  • Before My Eyes, 2011. Two channel short film. Part of the Seasons series.[42]
  • Illusions & Mirrors, 2013. Short film commissioned by Dior and featuring Natalie Portman.
  • Looking for Oum Kulthum, 2017.Feature film co-directed by Shoja Azari.
  • Land of Dreams, 2021. Feature film co-directed with Shoja Azari, written by Jean-Claude Carrière.[43]



Exhibition catalogues[edit]

Other literature and film[edit]

  • Expressing the Inexpressible: Shirin Neshat. Documentary by Jörg Neumeister-Jung and Ralf Raimo Jung, originally produced by Westdeutscher Rundfunk in 2000. Video, 42 minutes, color. DVD: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, Princeton, NJ, 2004. Online: Films Media Group, New York, N.Y., 2005.[54][55]
  • Hirahara, Naomi. We Are Here, Hachette, 2022[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Holzwarth, Hans W. (2009). 100 Contemporary Artists A-Z (Taschen's 25th anniversary special ed.). Köln: Taschen. pp. 416–421. ISBN 978-3-8365-1490-3.
  2. ^ a b Elaine Louie (January 28, 2009). "A Minimalist Loft, Accessorized Like Its Owner". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "Shirin Neshat". THE SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM FOUNDATION. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Shirin Neshat". International Center of Photography. 2 March 2016. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  5. ^ "The Woman Behind the Screen". The New Yorker. October 22, 2007.
  6. ^ Claudia La Rocco (November 14, 2011). "Shirin Neshat's Performa Contribution". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2012.
  7. ^ Müller, Katrin Bettina. "Away overseas". Shirin Neshat artist portrait. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  8. ^ The Guardian, 25 November 2019 amnesty art sale
  9. ^ a b c Susan Horsburgh (March 26, 2001). "The Great Divide". Time. Archived from the original on January 9, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Homa Khaleeli (June 13, 2010). "Shirin Neshat: A long way from home". The Guardian.
  11. ^ a b Denson, G. Roger, "Shirin Neshat: Artist of the Decade", The Huffington Post, December 20, 2010.
  12. ^ "Shirin Neshat". Yale School of Art. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  13. ^ a b c Suzie Mackenzie (July 22, 2000). "An unveiling". The Guardian.
  14. ^ a b MacDonald, Scott (September 22, 2004). "Between two worlds: an interview with Shirin Neshat". Archived from the original on May 11, 2013. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  15. ^ Heartney, Eleanor (2007). After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. Munich: Prestel. pp. 230–231. ISBN 9783791337326.
  16. ^ Cohen, Alina (2019-03-01). "Shirin Neshat on Her Path from Art School Outcast to Contemporary Art Icon". Artsy. Retrieved 2022-02-02.
  17. ^ a b c Danto, Arthur Coleman (15 October 2000). "Shirin Neshat". Bomb (73): 60–67.
  18. ^ Excerpt from interview between the artist and Linda Weintraub, author of In the Making: Creative Options for Contemporary Art.
  19. ^ a b Shirin Neshat[permanent dead link] Guggenheim Collection.
  20. ^ "Guns, veils and unflinching stares: the banned work about the heroes of Iran's 1979 revolution". the Guardian. 2022-10-10. Retrieved 2022-10-26.
  21. ^ Danto, Arthur C. "Shirin Neshat", Bomb, Fall 2000. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  22. ^ a b c Orden, Erica. "Snapshot of a Song", Modern Painters, November 2009.
  23. ^ Livia Bloom (January 23, 2010). "Women Without Men's Shirin Neshat". Filmmaker.
  24. ^ Sabina Castelfranco (September 13, 2009). "Shirin Neshat Wins Best Director Award at Venice Film Festival".
  25. ^ "Shirin Neshat joins protests against Iran's worsening human rights situation with new digital works". The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. 2022-10-04. Retrieved 2022-10-26.
  26. ^ "Shirin Neshat - Franklin Furnace". Retrieved 2019-03-07.
  27. ^ "10 Artists Remember Their First Exhibition | artnet News". artnet News. 2016-08-11. Retrieved 2020-12-06.
  28. ^ "Games of Desire to be exhibited at Art Plural Gallery", Singapore Business Review, October 9, 2012. Retrieved October 2013.
  29. ^ "New Acquisition: Shirin Neshat, Speechless | Unframed". 24 April 2012. Retrieved 2019-03-07.
  30. ^ Shirin Neshat: The Book of Kings, January 13 – February 11, 2012 Archived June 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Gladstone Gallery, New York.
  31. ^ "Shirin Neshat: Afterwards | Artsy". Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  32. ^ Stuart, Gwynedd (16 October 2019). "Shirin Neshat Brings the Nostalgia and Rage of Her Immigrant Experience to the Broad". Lamag - Culture, Food, Fashion, News & Los Angeles.
  33. ^ Knight, Christopher (6 December 2019). "Review: Shirin Neshat show at the Broad wrings power, pain and poetry from black-and-white". Los Angeles Times.
  34. ^ "The International Jury 2013". Berlinale. January 28, 2013. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
  35. ^ a b Heinrich, Will (2022-12-08). "With 'Eyes on Iran,' Artists Bring Protests to Roosevelt Island". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-10-06.
  36. ^ Shirin Neshat, 1 October - 4 December 2005 Archived 9 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.
  37. ^ "The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize". 2006. Archived from the original on 2012-11-05.
  38. ^ Rutherford, Chrissy (2015-11-30). "The 2016 Pirelli Calendar is Here". Harper's BAZAAR. Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  39. ^ New York Times (August 7, 2017), Review: Anna Netrebko Sings Her First ‘Aida’ in Salzburg NYT.
  40. ^ "Video Installation : 'Turbulent' (1998) by Shirin Neshat (Iran / U.S.A): Red Line Art Works". Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  41. ^ a b Heartney, Eleanor (10 December 2011). "OverRuled Performance by Shirin Neshat". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved July 29, 2022.
  42. ^ "THE SEASONS | SHIRIN NESHAT". The New York Times. June 18, 2011. Archived from the original on June 19, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2022.
  43. ^ Land of Dreams at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  44. ^ a b c d e f "Shirin Neshat". Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  45. ^ "2002 Infinity Award: Art". International Center of Photography. 23 February 2016. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  46. ^ "Shirin Neshat". Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  47. ^ a b c d e "Shirin Neshat - Gladstone Gallery". Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  48. ^ Chow, Andrew R. (2017-09-12). "Shirin Neshat and Mikhail Baryshnikov Among Praemium Imperiale Winners". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-02-08.
  49. ^ "Honorary Fellowship". Retrieved 2021-04-13.
  50. ^ Neshat, Shirin (1997). Women of Allah. United States.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  51. ^ Neshat, Shirin (2000). Two Installations. Wexner Center for the Arts. ISBN 9781881390268.
  52. ^ Neshat, Shirin (2005). Shirin Neshat: 2002-2005. Milan: Charta. ISBN 8881585405.
  53. ^ I Know Something About Love. London, Cologne: Parasol Unit, Buchhandlung Walther Konig. 2011. ISBN 9783865609809.
  54. ^ Expressing the Inexpressible on WorldCat
  55. ^ Expressing the Inexpressible on Films Media Group website
  56. ^ Hirahara, Naomi (2022). We Are Here. Running Press. ISBN 978-0-7624-7965-8.

External links[edit]

  • Mohammed Afkhami, Sussan Babaie, Venetia Porter, Natasha Morris. "Honar: The Afkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art." Phaidon Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-7148-7352-7.
  • Shirin Neshat at IMDb