“What are you doing here? I didn’t know you knew of her work!” “Who doesn’t know of her work? She’s a big deal.” I had this brief exchange of words with an acquaintance I had not seen in a very long time in a crowded auditorium at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. This acquaintance seemed surprised that I was not only aware of, but interested in the work of the Iranian-American visual artist Shirin Neshat. Last night, Neshat talked about her photographic and video work as well as her first feature film Women without Men.
As a renowned artist, Neshat’s interests lies in exploring many social issues including the role of women in Islam, the relationship of gender to Islam itself and the relationship of human beings to their surroundings. Neshat has produced a body of work which is deeply personal and political, reflecting her experiences in Iran and America.
The uses of allegories, symbolism and metaphors have become key defining characteristics of Shirin Neshat’s works, leaving a powerful and long-lasting impression on those who experience them.
The film Women without Men is without a doubt one of the most powerful and achingly beautiful films I have ever seen. It is a highly stylized and highly choreographed film about independence, freedom and democracy, a film that richly tells the story of an era with all its beauty and horror.
And as far as beauty goes, Neshat does not shy away from it. She sees her work as a re-interpretation of elements in Islamic art. The symmetry, harmony, and composition so characteristic of classical Islamic art are also found in Neshat’s photography and video installations. Women without Men is a rich and thought-provoking film, full of questions about the human condition and our quest for freedom.
The film Women without Men has already garnered numerous accolades including the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 66th Annual Venice Film Festival and was the Official Selection at the Toronto International Film Festival. If this film gets a wider distribution, please do make an attempt to indulge in all its beauty and meaning.