Shirin Neshat’s first solo exhibition in Cape Town brings together a video installation Sarah, a photographic still from Roja and Offerings, a series of recent photographic-based works, which through different means incorporate Neshat’s interest in the interior lives of women.
Sarah and Roja are part of a trilogy of video installations titled Dreamers, which explore the world of women’s dreams. In many ways, the characters and their dreamy narratives are projections of the artist in which she reflects on some of her own personal nightmares.
The single channel film Sarah is, according to Neshat, “about the unfolding journey of a woman as she recollects and breathes annihilation, as she faces residues of destruction, violence, genocide, and mortality in a state of dream. Sarah’s anxieties and fears at last force her to plunge into imagining her own death.” While not restricted to any particular time or place, the work is intended to reference a collective sense of anxiety and fear, part of the global experience in a world fraught with conflict.
Neshat says: “In my opinion, rational interpretations of dreams never seem to properly capture their true meanings and significance within the human psyche. So Sarah is an effort to make sense of the more subliminal emotional and psychic universe that lives deep inside of us, but is difficult to explain through words.”
“I have been haunted by the power of dreams for years” says Neshat, “I am fascinated by how in a state of dream, the boundaries in between madness and sanity, reality and fiction, conscious and subconscious are blurred and broken”.
Dreamers is based on aspects of the artist’s own dreams. Roja’s character and dilemma in many ways resembles hers: the fear of the ‘stranger’ and the ‘strange land,’ and desire for a reunion with ‘home’ with ‘mother,’ with the ‘motherland’ that seems welcoming at first but becomes terrifying and demonic in the end. Themes of ‘flight’ and ‘levitation’, implying freedom and ecstasy, is a significant aspect of the Roja series that is a recurring theme in Neshat’s work.
Neshat’s recent Offerings series stem from a wine label she designed in 2019 for the Ornellaia Wine Estate. For these works, Neshat employs her trademark use of texts in delicate lines of Persian script across the skin of the people and subjects that she photographed. These images reclaim the compositional aesthetics of the series Women of Allah (1993 – 1997), one of the most famous bodies of work by Neshat that marks the beginning of her reflection on the complexity of Islamic culture and its traditions in relation to female identity. The poetry written on the hands in this series is taken from the 11th century Persian Poet Omar Khayyam.
Shirin Neshat (b. 1957, Qazvin, Iran) is an Iranian-born artist and filmmaker living in New York. Neshat’s early photographic works include the Women of Allah series (1993–1997), which explored the question of gender in relation to Islamic fundamentalism and militancy. Her subsequent video works departed from overtly political content or critique in favor of more poetic imagery and narratives. In her practice, she employs poetic imagery to engage with themes of gender and society, the individual and the collective, and the dialectical relationship between past and present, through the lens of her experiences of belonging and exile.
She has mounted numerous solo exhibitions at museums internationally, including: the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Serpentine Gallery, London; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Recent solo exhibitions include: Kunstraum Dornbirn, Austria; Faurschou Foundation, Copenhagen; Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany; and Museo Correr,Venice, Italy, which was an official corollary event to the 57th Biennale di Venezia in 2017. A major retrospective of her work was exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2013. Neshat was awarded the Golden Lion Award, the First International Prize at the 48th Biennale di Venezia (1999), the Hiroshima Freedom Prize (2005), and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2006). In 2009, Neshat directed her first feature-length film, Women Without Men, which received the Silver Lion Award for “Best Director” at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. Dreamers marked her first solo show on the African continent, which exhibited at Goodman Gallery Johannesburg in 2016. That same year, Neshat featured in the New Revolutions: Goodman Gallery at 50 exhibition in Johannesburg and in the Summers group exhibition at Goodman Gallery Cape Town. In 2017, Neshat was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award for Painting. That same year, Neshat directed Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida at the Salzburg. In 2017, Neshat was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale award for Painting. That same year, Neshat directed Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida at the Salzburg. The Broad Museum in Los Angeles recently hosted a survey exhibition of the last 25 years of Neshat’s work, which travelled on to Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in 2021. This year Neshat was the feature artist and Master of Photography at Photo London festival which took place in Somerset House in September.
Neshat has directed three feature-length films, Women Without Men (2009), which received the Silver Lion Award for Best Director at the 66th Venice International Film Festival, Looking For Oum Kulthum (2017,) and most recently Land of Dreams (2021) which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
The artist lives and works in New York, USA.