I do remember the first time I saw Shirin Neshat’s work at a gallery, a good ten years ago now. I had just moved to Istanbul. And I also remember being so emotionally moved. I remember very vividly the power of those photographs. Veiled women, just their faces, sometimes only eyes, feet or hands showing, inscribed with Persian calligraphy and poetry. The impact, the dominance, the political message was just so strong. Her photographs so evocative. The visual language so powerful.
And I remember watching on tv the commanding speech She gave at the Crystal Awards ceremony during the World Economic Forum in Davos way back in 2014. I remember the delicacy of her voice, her humility and how her talk went straight to my heart.
She was so unpretentious as she admitted her nervousness on giving a speech as a visual artist in front of “World influencers”. Her speech was short, softly delivered yet so eloquent. Her message… “it is actually the musicians, writers, filmmakers, visual artists, intellectuals, all the people with imagination who work very hard in turbulent times. They push all given boundaries to create the most powerful, subversive artistic expressions which flourish into the world”. In short she was saying “do not ever doubt the the significance of art and culture in times of crisis”. That connection is always the saving grace.
Shirin Neshat was in Istanbul Febrauary 2017 promoting her “Dreamers” exhibition at Dirimart Gallery in Istanbul’s Dolapdere region. She was accompanied by the German curator Heinz Peter Schwerfel and her model Roja, a woman of American and Iranian descent.
Of course I did not to miss the opportunity to visit the gallery and stay on for a talk she gave to a small audience explaining the framework of the exhibition.
I have always been moved by the beauty and the delicacy of her work. This time around, sitting in the first row, I was very much moved by her grace, sincerity and strength.
The exhibition is fairly compact, a series of photographs and two video installations; “Roja” and “Sara”, both from 2016. She always begs to differ and surprise and this time around was no different. It was the first time I came across Shirin Neshat using Western figures – both men and women – in her photographs and video installations. Blurry images of the photographs conveying the sense of a dreamy visual effect. The videos revolving around her models whose emotional narratives remain on the border between dream and reality. Hence the name of the exhibition I guess: Dreamers.
Obviously her art is remarkable. Nonetheless, it was actually listening to her live which left a very memorable mark on me. Her particular choice of words, the tone of her voice, her eloquence was beyond words.
Shirin Neshat started her interview with a brief overview of her art. She pointed out that because she is a woman, she makes films about women because she can relate to the struggles of women. Yet does not want to be seen as an ambassador for all Islamic women
In the answer to why she only uses black and white in her projects. “Well color is so seductive and black and white is so severe. That it is so much easier to create haunting experiences with black and white which actually is not possible with color”.
Highlighting that she tries to maintain a balance to move the audience without becoming too emotional, neither too manipulative, nor too sentimental.
Apart from her art, the interview also touched on the huge social anxiety surrounding the World we live in today. The climate of fanaticism. Societies around the globe becoming more and more politicized. The political turmoil spreading across the world. Globalization on one side and the rise of nationalism on the other. That dichotomy becoming extremely frightening.
She voiced that the prevailing anxiety is no doubt creating an atmosphere of uncertainty which is establishing insecurity. However, she was also very quick and adamant to point out that we should not make fear dominate our lives.
Everything we are afraid of and everything we hope for are hidden in our dreams.
She was careful to hightlight that she avoids creating “art that preaches”. Yet she does believe that artists have to be socially conscious. Emphasizing that it is the artist’s responsibility to make art that questions tyranny, injustice. It is the artist’s task to be an advocate for change, for peace, for unity.
I agree with Shirin Neshat, the World is scary right now, uncertain and definitely disorienting.
I also believe that art is entertainment, yet it can also be arresting. Art is, in some ways escapist. It is a vehicle for thought. The amount of inspiration it can provide is immense.
My hope is that inspiration will lead to a change in thought processes. That inspiration will help people to keep an open mind and become an outlet for new ideas. Hopefully those new ideas will reinvigorate peoples’ passion to thrive for a better World and sweep all the greed behind.
And last words from Shirin Neshat: Art is no crime. Take care of your artists, your intellectuals.
As Picasso says, art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.