1 October - 4 December 2005Shirin Neshat, an Iranian-American artist based in New York, is one of the most significant contemporary artists working today. Having achieved international renown as a photographer in the 1990s with her stark and visually arresting photographic series Women of Allah, Neshat has since shifted her focus towards the more fluid and complex medium of film. Shirin Neshat: Recent and Earlier Works at the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin surveys the recent developments in the practice of this leading international artist, introducing two films - Mahdokht (2004) and Zarin (2005) - from the yet to be completed five-part feature film Women without Men. Both film installations are to be shown for the first time in Berlin, the second of which will receive its world premiere on this occasion.
Born in 1957 in Qazvin, Iran, Shirin Neshat moved as a teenager to the United States to study art, five years before the revolution overtook her country in 1979. She completed a Masters degree in Fine Arts (Painting) at the University of California in Berkeley in 1982 and later moved to New York. Her first return to her home country in 1990, her encounter with a land so culturally, politically and socially altered in the period of her absence, inspired the photos of Women of Allah, a series bringing her immediate international renown. Her video installations have appeared at Documenta 11 alongside many of the major international biennales from Sydney to Kwangju to São Paulo, and she was honored with the Golden Lion award at the 48th Biennale of Venice in 1999. In 2004 she was awarded an honorary professorship at the Universität der Künste, Berlin.
The Berlin presentation centers on Shirin Neshat's most recent body of work. Based on the novel Women without Men by Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur, which was banned soon after being published in Tehran in 1989, and its author imprisoned, this new series of films signals her entry into the realm of feature filmmaking and consolidates the mythological turn taken by her work in Tooba (2002). After Parsipur's provocative allegory of life in contemporary Iran, Neshat's newest poetic vision traces the lives of five women who find themselves in a garden of ephemeral paradise having followed fraught and laborious paths to arrive there.
Echoing the trope of the five women's restless journeys, the exhibition surveys the key moments and vicissitudes in Neshat's already rich artistic and personal trajectory. A selection of large-format black-and-white photos drawn from her seminal Women of Allah and Unveiling series marks the point of departure. Strikingly minimalist, Neshat's early photos deploy charged symbols - weapons and writing, the body and the veil - while invoking contrasts and dichotomies of color, form, gender and space to probe and problematize post-revolutionary Iran and the situation of women within that society.
Retrospectively conceived as a trilogy, Neshat's second major body of work encompassing Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Fervor (2000) transplanted her interrogation of the interface between gender and culture, the exploration of cultural displacement and exile, to the medium of video installation. In Berlin, this landmark injection of movement, sound and spatiality into her ambiguous and ambivalent enquiry will be represented by Rapture. Continuing the powerfully reduced black-and-white aesthetic of her photography, this split-screen installation physically enacts the polarity and energy between the men and women on screen, plunging the viewer - in contrast to cinema - into the discursive, confrontational space between the two screens, a space of central importance to Shirin Neshat's work on the whole.
Throughout her artistic career Shirin Neshat's oeuvre has provoked visceral reactions from her audiences, yielding as many affirmations as invectives. Across the board she has been praised for her authenticity and subversiveness and criticized at the same time for reproducing stereotypes and invoking a new orientalism. By focusing on the most recent film work of the artist, whose subversive filmic language and universalist vision, or »navigation between two cultures«, as the artist puts it, with their orientation towards both Iranian and western modes of cinematography destabilizes the fixation of critical reception on ethnicity and authenticity, this exhibition takes up the open-endedness of the works themselves; it brings to the fore the complex identity of the artistic practice of "an Iranian artist with an Iranian background working in New York within the 'western' institution of 'fine art'" (V. Vitali).