Shirin Neshat’s diverse body of work is remarkable for its complex and atmospheric treatment of feminism and Islamic culture through film, photography, and performance. Born and raised in Qazvin, Iran, Neshat was sent to complete her education in the United States in 1974. In 1979 the Islamic Revolution prevented her from returning home, and during the 1980s she earned her BA, MA, and MFA from the University of California at Berkeley, returning to Iran only in 1990. During the 1990s she produced photographic portraits of Iranian women which incorporate quotes from Persian poetry alongside objects of violence such as handguns, receiving particular acclaim for the Women of Allah series (1993-1997). Amanda Valdez has argued that it was this series that outlined the major ideas and concepts which were to be of key importance within the artist’s later work: “The series asserted themes that would come to dominate Shirin’s work: the social, cultural and religious codes of Islamic societies and their impact on the political and psychological dimensions of the female experience” (Amanda Valdez, "In Conversation with Shirin Neshat," Dossier, Issue 7, 2011, p. 22).
Following the completion of the Women of Allah series, Neshat turned to film in search of, as she put it, “a medium that offered me a new level of lyricism” (Shirin Neshat in conversation with Scott MacDonald, "Between Two Worlds: An Interview with Shirin Neshat," Feminist Studies 30, Fall 2004, No. 3, p. 630). Neshat has since become renowned for her evocative, poetic and cinematographic films depicting Muslim men and women, actively questioning the complexity and duality of Islamic culture - expressing an individual freedom while fighting for a collective cultural idenitity. Passage is considered the most significant film installation of Neshat’s career and has been extensively exhibited. The importance of the work was further recognised when, following its debut screening in 2001 at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum acquired an edition for its permanent collection.
Whereas Neshat’s earlier films use dual-channel formats which fracture their presentation, Passage utilises a single projection to depict three equally powerful narrative strands of a funeral procession: a line of men carrying a shroud-wrapped body along a beach; a circle of chador-clad women digging a hole in the ground with their hands; and a child meticulously erecting a monument of stones while observing the ceremony. Filmed in Essouaria, Morocco, a location where the desert-like landscape recalls Neshat's beloved Qazvin, the sprawling and atmospheric setting provides a contrasting backdrop to the ambiguous movements of the crowds of people. Ultimately the three groups join loosely together in a haunting funerary ritual, a poignant communal act whose mutuality goes eerily unacknowledged. An instrumental soundtrack composed by Philip Glass accompanies the film, the product of a unique collaboration with Neshat. Technically adept and conceptually rich, Passage establishes Neshat as one of the most accomplished female artists still working today, whilst highlighting the artist’s remarkable ability to simultaneously question and reject tropes of orientalist representation.
(Images: Production stills of the present work
© Shirin Neshat
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels)
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