Shirin Neshat

Practices of regeneration

Shoja Azari, Mohsen Namjoo, Shirin Neshat - Passage through the world. Photo credit: Luciano Romano
Shoja Azari, Mohsen Namjoo, Shirin Neshat - Passage through the world. Photo credit: Luciano Romano
30 DEC 2016
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Shirin Neshat 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 as well as the immeasurability between different cultures. In these images, become icons in the art world and international culture, the artist herself is portrayed with the head covered by chador and the hands, feet and face covered by an elaborate Farsi handwriting showing the verses of contemporary Iranian poetesses such as F. Farokhzad. Her subsequent video works departed from overtly political content or critique in favor of more poetic imagery and narratives. For example think about Passage (2001 and 2002), The Last World (2003), Mahdokht (2004), Zarin (2005) going to her first film Women Without Men (2009) for which she was awarded the Silver Lion of the Venice Biennial.

Do you remember the book Death and mourning ritual. From ancient funeral moans to the cry of Mary by Italian ethnologist Ernesto De Martino? In this book, speaking of mourning, De Martino says that to avert the existential collapse of a person facing the grief, man needs to work out the mourn in a cultural way, that is the coded form of the rite that on one hand allows you to find yourself equal in pain to others, on the other hand it becomes a promise of resurrection. Mourning is a social ritual to transform the death into life, the despair into hope, the solitude in community. Mourning in other words is a bridge between opposites, contrasting elements. These elements are really important to understand the power of the performance Passage through the world created by artists Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari, commissioned by TPP Teatro Pubblico Pugliese, curated by Franco Laera and produced by Change Performing Arts.

I have already talked about this performance on the occasion of its first presentation in Bari in September 2015 at Teatro Margherita. A performance in which the music from Asia, through the Middle East and the Balkans comes to Italy. Truly peculiar the song Inno alla Desolata (The Stabat Mater) because of in the tradition of Canosa di Puglia hundreds of women dressed in black and covered with veils sing it during a procession with a very strong emotional impact during the Holy Saturday expressing a common sense of sharing the Virgin Mary’s pain for the death of Christ. An image that recalls many images from Shirin Neshat’s archive showing Iranian women.

During these months I have followed it in Naples in June 2016 and Reggio Emilia in November 2016. Now with consciousness I can say that Passage through the world with its composite structure and incorporation of local characteristics from the places in which it has been shown is a performance that nourishes and stimulates deep emotions by touching the most important "passages" of the human condition.

The performance staged in June 2016 at Museo Diocesano di Donnaregina Vecchia in Naples has been unforgettable. The Neapolitan context immediately gave a charm and a connotation that definitely lacked the Teatro Margherita in Bari. It is actually the former church of St. Mary Donnaregina Vecchia hosting one of the most important frescoes of the city of Naples, built in the fourteenth century for the Poor Clare nuns of the same convent. Unlike Bari here the scene was set in the apse, in front of the audience while at its sides like two arms that surround the audience there were the “Giullari di Dio” of the Parish of St. Clare in Naples who as the mourning of Bari Vecchia said Christian prayers. The place was perfect for the performance. The set up was easy but at the same time spectacular.

The agreement between Namjoo and Faraualla was maximum, to the limit of perfection. Compared to the "Bari" version on this occasion we could find something new: a solo song by Antonella Morea sitting among the “Giullari di Dio”. The lonely song of Morea was a poignant Fenesta ca lucive, a nineteenth-century Neapolitan song whose music is attributed to the school of Antonio Zingarelli, almost certainly to Bellini. The theme of the song is the death of a girl while her fiancé is away for a long time. The lack of news of the groom do to consider him dead and the death of the girl is presumably attributable to pain for his presumed death. In the song there are some symbolic elements connected in any way to the performance of Neshat: a window (a communication symbol) that in the song is closed precisely to indicate the lack of communication that characterizes the death or the lamp as a symbol of the soul that lives beyond death, of life continuing in another dimension.

The third adaptation of this performance I saw was at Teatro Cavallerizza in Reggio Emilia in November 2016. The installation remembers of the first version in Bari but in this case there weren’t the mourning women on the stage. The local contribution has been given by D’Esperanto Duo (Paolo Simonazzi and Emanuele Reverberi) who played the instrumental version (by the Medieval instrument ghironda and a bagpipe) of Dies Irae according to the Monchio delle Corti tradition and Crétiens reveillez-vous from the French tradition.

A performance "immediate" acting on images and sounds but "complicated" for the layering of meanings and different readings where every time it pays. A performance that nourishes and stimulates deep emotions by touching the "passages" most important of the human condition. A melting pot of universal instinctive emotions. A promise of rebirth.

Images, video and space concept by Shoja Azari and Shirin Neshat.
Music, vocals and live performance by Mohsen Namjoo with the participation of Faraualla Vocal Ensemble and “Giullari di Dio” della Parrocchia di Santa Chiara di Napoli.
A project commissioned by TPP Teatro Pubblico Pugliese, curated by Franco Laera and produced by Change Performing Arts.