I have lived in USA since 1975 but I have never given myself the right to make work about the American culture, but with the troubling recent years behind us in this country as an Iranian American immigrant I found the urge to offer my point of views about what I love and dislike about a country that has given me home and opportunities. Like all Americans I feel responsible to protect what is great about this country, its value of democracy, tolerance and compassion which always shows in the faces of people.
Shirin Neshat's Land of Dreams exhibition at the Gladstone Gallery in New York opened in mid-January and will remain open until the end of February. Probably the most interesting artistic and cultural project not only of the pandemic period but of the last 10 years.
Land of dreams is a story of an Iranian woman photographer wandering off in New Mexico, going door to door taking American people’s portraits from different ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds, and collecting their dreams. Sheila Vand, the brilliant Iranian actress played the lead role here in the video as well as in the upcoming feature film version of “Land of Dreams” along with Matt Dillon, William Moseley, Isabella Rossellini, Anna Gunn and many other wonderful actors.
The installation at the Gladstone Gallery includes more than 100 photos and a two-channel video and as the artist said, for the first time her focus shifted to the American population during the Trump era. A particular historical period, not only for the United States but for the whole world, which has its roots in the 1980s. We are isolated, individualists, hedonists. Linked to the moment, to the particular, to the here and now. We have lost the desire to pursue our dreams. We are resigned. We need a spark that rekindles the fire that we have inside us because after all we are always dreamers and nothing and no one should discourage this essence that makes us light, able to overlook the miseries of everyday life, and that makes us feel part of a wider community that has no borders but horizons that do not delimit but broaden belonging, solidarity, empathy.
And in vain does the dreamer rummage about in his old dreams, raking them over as though they were a heap of cinders, looking into these cinders for some spark, however tiny, to fan it into a flame so as to warm his chilled blood by it and revive in it all that he held so dear before, all that touched his heart, that made his blood course through his veins, that drew tears from his eyes, and that so splendidly deceived him!
(Fëdor Michajlovič Dostoevskij, White Nights)
The first film on the two-channel video installation follows the trip of a young Iranian art student named Simin, who traveling around suburban and rural areas of New Mexico photographs local residents in their homes asking her subjects about their most recent dreams. So as the respondents detail their dreams, the viewer is transported into these imagined narratives along with Simin, who travels into each participant's subconscious mind.
The second film reveals a sinister twist to the protagonist’s seemingly innocuous assignment: Simin is uncovered as an Iranian spy tasked with archiving the dreams and portraits she captures, which are recorded and analyzed in a bunker set within the mountains of New Mexico. Unlike the scientists who quietly work and diligently follow orders in the factory-like facility, Simin begins an introspective journey of uncertainty activated by one of the subjects she met and which leads her to reflect on the danger of oppressive ideologies and policies, in America as well as in Iran, but which as always happens in Neshat's artistic practice becomes a universal existential condition.
We drove across the country to search for a landscape that at once looked like Iran and America’s Southwest. We settled on New Mexico not only for its spectacular nature but also for its demographically diverse communities of Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic, and Anglos.
Alongside the film, the photographic installation Land of Dreams comprises 111 photographs of New Mexico residents who Neshat captured throughout filming. Similarly to Simin, Neshat asked her subjects about their dreams, which she recorded in Farsi on many of the portraits, along with the sitters’ names and dates and places of birth forming a deep interpersonal connection with each person she met, and creating a powerful and encompassing portrait of America.