Shirin Neshat (born March 26, 1957 in Qazvin, Iran) is an Iranian visual artist who lives in New York. She is known primarily for her work in film, video and photography.
Neshat's parents were upper middle-class. Her father was a well-respected physician and her mother a homemaker.
Neshat has stated about her father, "He fantasized about the west, romanticized the west, and slowly rejected all of his own values; both my parents did. What happened, I think, was that their identity slowly dissolved, they exchanged it for comfort. It served their class". As a part of Neshat's "Westernization" she was enrolled in a Catholic boarding school in Tehran. She found the environment cold and hostile in comparison to her caring family.
Through her father's acceptance of Western ideologies came an acceptance of a form of western feminism. Neshat's father encouraged his daughters to be an individual, to take risks, to learn, to see the world and he sent his daughters as well as his sons to college to receive their higher education.
Neshat left Iran to study art in Los Angeles at about the time that the Iranian Revolution occurred. As an effect of the political restructuring after the revolution, her father who had been financially secure and about to retire was left without benefits and a meager salary. Once the revolution was over and the society was restructured as a traditional Islamic nation, her family was no longer able to enjoy the comfortable life to which they had grown accustomed. About a year after the revolution, she moved to the San Francisco Bay area and began studying at Dominican College. Eventually, she enrolled in UC Berkeley and completed her BA, MA and MFA.
After graduate school, she moved to New York and married a Korean curator, Kyong Park, who was the director and founder of Storefront for Art and Architecture, a non-profit organization. Neshat helped Park run The Storefront, where she was exposed to many different ideologies, and would become a place where she received much needed experience with and exposure to concepts that would later become integral to her artwork.
During this time, she did not make any serious attempts at creating art, and the few attempts that were made were subsequently destroyed. In 1990, she returned to Iran. "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." As a way of coping with the discrepancy between the culture that she experienced 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.
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 with the technique of showing two or more coordinated films concurrently, creating stark visual contrasts through such motifs as light and dark, black and white, male and female. Neshat has also made more traditional narrative short films, such as her recent work, Zarin.
The work of Shirin 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.
As a photographer and video-artist, Shirin Neshat was recognized for her brilliant portraits of women entirely overlaid by Persian calligraphy (notably through the Women of Allah series). She also 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).
Neshat's recognition became more international in 1999, when she won the International Award of the XLVIII Biennial of Venice with Turbulent and Rapture, a project involving almost 250 extras and produced by the Galerie Jerome de Noirmont which met with critical and public success after its worldwide avant-premiere 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.
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 to Artangel in London.
Shirin Neshat has become one of the most well known Persian artist within the Western artistic world. While she lives in New York City, she addresses a global audience. Her earlier work was symbolic of her personal grief, anxiety and the pain of separation from her home country. It took a neutral position on Islam. As time progressed and the Islamic regime of Iran became more intrusive and oppressive, Neshat's artwork became more boldly political and subversively critical against it.
She seeks to, according an article in Time, "untangle the ideology of Islam through her art." Her current cinematic work continues to express the poetic, philosophical, and metaphorical as well as complex levels of intellectual abstraction.
In 2006 Shirin 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 to mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life."
Shirin was profiled in The New Yorker magazine on October 22, 2007.
In 2009 Neshat won the Silver Lion for best director at the 66th Venice Film Festival for her directional debut "Women without Men", 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." The film examines the 1953 British-and American-backed coup, which supplanted Iran's democratically elected government with a monarchy.
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 Jerome 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.
In July 2009 Shirin 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.
In December 2010 Shirin 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."