I will greet the sun again;
I will greet the streams which flowed in me;
I will greet the clouds which were my lengthy thoughts; I will greet the painful growth of poplars
Which pass through the dry seasons;
I will greet the flocks of crows
Which brought me, as presents,
The sweet smells of the fields at night;
I will greet my mother who lived in the mirror
And was the image of my old age;
And I will also greet the earth whose burning womb
Is filled with green seeds by the passion she has
For reproducing me.
I will come, I will come,
I will come with my hair,
As the continuation of the smells of the soil;
With my eyes, as the dense experiences of darkness,
Carrying the bushes I have picked in the woodlands
beyond the wall.
I will come, I will come,
I will come and the entrance will be filled with love;
And at the entrance I will greet again
those who are in love,
And also the girl who is still standing
At the entrance in diffusion of love.
It is a famous poem by the Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad which emphasizes ("I will come, I will come, I will come") that in the future, one day women will be free. The poem was used by Shirin Neshat in 1993 for the photo I Am Its Secret, and in 2020 it became the title of the largest retrospective dedicated to her. Curated by Ed Schad and inaugurated in October 2020 at The Broad in Los Angeles, the exhibition is currently open until May 16, 2021 at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. An exhibition that traces the artist's 30-year career, an artistic research closely linked to her biography, that has greatly influenced and continues to influence us, that has moved us and continues to move us so much.
Shortly before Iran became an Islamic republic following the Khomeinist revolution, Shirin Neshat moved to the United States to study art. We are at the end of the 1970s. Due to the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) Shirin Neshat was unable to return home so she lived "dislocated" between two cultures, the Iranian one and the American one. When she returned to her country of origin in 1990, she no longer recognized it, it was no longer that of her memories as a child and as a teenager and this shock leaded her to reflect on her own cultural roots and on the ideals that must necessarily animate us.
It is in this context that her first works were born, including the very famous photographic series Women of Allah (1993-97), a work with a great emotional impact, which reflects on the incommensurability of cultures and their encounter: as Westerners, we were captivated by the beauty of the images but we did not understand those written which were understandable only to an Iranian public. The series revolves around four symbolic elements: the veil, the weapon, the text and the gaze. Contrary to a tradition that wants the woman wearing the veil to be submissive, the subjects of this series look at the camera with confidence. The veil transforms them into warriors, into heroines. Confidence in weapons refers to the weapon as a symbol of male power. Finally, the texts of contemporary Iranian writers are not just a decoration but also contribute to the meaning of the work.
There are also the first videos: Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Passage (2001). Video of great emotional and symbolic strength. Turbulent investigates the absence of Iranian women in the music scene in a two-channel projection where the observer stands there in the middle as if they are a witness. It is a work conceived for opposites: man/woman, white/black, full/empty, traditional/non-traditional. The man (an extraordinary Shoja Azari) sings a passionate love song in front of a big audience, the woman (Sussan Deyhim) in front of an empty audience sings with great emotional intensity, hers is a contemporary, unique performance that subverts the tradition within which man's song moves.
Rapture continues the analysis of gender in Islamic culture. Here, too, the observer must stand in the middle as a witness to an allegorical duel between a group of men, all dressed in black trousers and a white shirt, and a group of women all covered by chadors, located inside a fortress that represents the male space and making a journey through the desert and then on a boat that they have made themselves towards freedom or perhaps towards death. It matters little because here the focus is on the courage of these women to go further, to overcome the limits that they found in front of them.
Finally, Passage which boasts the collaboration with the musician Philip Glass and which is a real visual poem that reflects on loss, on hope, on rebirth.
There are also three monumental photographic installations. The Book of Kings (2012), influenced by the 2010-2011 Arab Spring, takes its name from the ancient book Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), a long poem of epic tragedies written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010 AD. Shahnameh recounts the mythical and historical past of Greater Iran from the creation of the world to the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century. A strong work that recalls the iconic Women of Allah series focusing on the themes of the revolution and defiance of youth. The young Iranians and Arabs are portrayed by Neshat in black and white and on the face and body of these we find texts and illustrations taken from the Shahnameh and from the contemporary poetry of Iranian writers and prisoners that illuminate or darken the emotional intensity and in a certain sense they connect the current energy of contemporary Iran with its mythical and historical past.
The Home of My Eyes (2015) is a series of portraits made between 2014 and 2015 depicting women, men and children residing in Azerbaijan which reminds the artist of her country of origin. The texts in this case are taken both from the answers of the subjects, and from poems by Nizami Ganjavi, a 12th century Iranian poet who lived in what is now Azerbaijan.
And finally the new work series Land of Dreams (2019), the first work that Shirin Neshat dedicates to the American culture.
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.
About this exhibition, Neshat said:
Andrea Karnes and I have been in conversation for several years about the possibility of bringing my work to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, one of the most exquisite museums in America, with an outstanding exhibition program and iconic architecture. Finally, a dream comes true, and one of the largest surveys of my career will travel to Texas, to a community that is largely unfamiliar with my art. Personally, the timing of this exhibition could not have been more relevant following an unforgettable year of racial, socio-political, and health crises. In essence, thematically every work I have made so far, from the earliest series of Women of Allah (1993–97), a body of work which questioned tyranny, violence, and political injustice in respect to my own birth country of Iran, to the latest multimedia project Land of Dreams (2019), exploring my experience as an immigrant in America, will offer an emotional, historical, and political journey of a nomadic artist who has spent much of her life in exile and who is perpetually conflicted in between Eastern and Western values and her Iranian and American identities.
An unforgettable exhibition where the artist's story highlights all the divisions that characterize our life, our culture, our history. An exciting story that cannot leave us indifferent.