The video and photographic work of Shirin Neshat stands halfway between metaphor and narrative and is marked by its powerful and poetic emotional impact. Neshat’s epic tales are told through sweeping panoramas of striking opposites: the desert and the sea; the architecture of East and West; and women of Islam in black chadors and Muslim men in crisp white shirts. Her haunting video installations, in which images are projected onto opposing walls, are often accompanied by commissioned musical compositions, engaging viewers in a multi-sensory dialogue with the work.
Born in Qazvin, Iran in 1957, Neshat immigrated to the United States at age 17 to attend college. Twelve years later, she returned to her native Iran, for the first of several visits, to find the county transformed by the Islamic Revolution. A resulting sense of displacement and exile inspired Neshat to create the work in this exhibition, as it explores the role of women and feminism in Islamic society, and the constant tension between religious and secular cultures, and tradition and modernity.
Shirin Neshat includes 6 audiovisual installations and 15 large photographic works. In the trilogy Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999), and Fervor (2000), Neshat explores themes surrounding the divided social roles between men and women in Islamic society—specifically, the difficulty of being a woman in Islam (Turbulent), disappearance and exile (Rapture), and sexuality and desire (Fervor). In Soliloquy (1999), she addresses the solitude of a woman torn between two cultures (Western and Middle Eastern) and two ways of life (traditional and contemporary). Also featured in the exhibition are Passage and Pulse, both produced in 2001. These works move beyond the debate over the status of women in Islam to tackle issues of a universal nature. Pulse looks at the notions of presence and absence, visible and non-visible, dream and desire, while Passage reflects on nature and culture and the meaning assigned to life and death. In addition, the 15 large black-and-white and color photographs included in the exhibition come from the Turbulent Series (1998), Rapture Series (1999), Fervor Series (2000), Soliloquy Series (2000), Pulse Series(2001), and Passage Series (2001).
“This comprehensive and compelling exhibition will offer our audiences a unique opportunity to experience the full range of Shirin Neshat’s work,” stated Marti Mayo, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. “Bringing together the largest collection of Neshat’s video installations ever presented, Shirin Neshat continues a tradition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston of displaying the most exciting and relevant contemporary art from across all cultures. We introduced Neshat’s work to Houston audiences in 2000 in the celebrated exhibition Outbound: Passages from the 90s, and are pleased to further our commitment to her work with this exhibition.”
Shirin Neshat has taken part in numerous exhibitions, biennials and film festivals in the past 10 years. Notable among them: 12th Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, 2000; 2000 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; 48. Biennale di Benezia/dAPERTutto, Venice, Italy, 1999; and 5th International Istanbul Biennial/On Life, Beauty, Translations and Other Difficulities, Istanbul, Turkey, 1997. Neshat has lived and worked in New York since prior to the overthrow of the Shah. Shirin Neshat was organized by the Musée d’artcontemporain de Montréal for a North American tour. It is accompanied by a bilingual catalogue that contains essays by exhibition curator Paulette Gagnon and filmmakers Atom Egoyan and Shoja Azari. It also includes extensive reproductions of exhibited work, and documentation on the artist’s career.
The exhibition’s presentation in Houston has been made possible by the patrons, benefactors, and donors to the Museum’s Major Exhibition Fund: Major Patron—Fayez Sarofim & Co.; Patrons—Eddie and Chinhui Allen, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Ballard, Mr. and Mrs. I.H. Kempner III, Louisa Stude Sarofim, and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Zilkha; Benefactors—Robert J. Card, M.D./Karol Kreymer, George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation, Rob and Louise Jamail, and Susan Vaughan Foundation; Donors—Baker Botts L.L.P., Mr. James A. Elkins, Jr., KPMG LLP, Ransom and Isabel Lummis, Lester Marks, Karen and Eric Pulaski, David and Suzanne Saperstein, Jeff Shankman, Reggie and Leigh Smith, Stephen and Ellen Susman, and Mr. and Mrs. Wallace S. Wilson.