(Photograph by Larry Burns / © Shirin Neshat / Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels / Hirshhorn Museum, SI)
Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat is renowned for her photography series and films, which often address the social, political and cultural dimensions of women in Islamic societies. (Rodolfo Martinez / Hirshhorn Museum, SI)
In her series Our House Is on Fire, Iranian artist Shirin Neshat captures the sense of loss in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution. The feet (above) are inscribed in Persian calligraphy with the poetry of Forough Farrokhzad. (Photograph taken by Larry Barns
© Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels / Hirshhorn Museum, SI)
In her video installation Rapture (still, above), Shirin Neshat explores women’s experiences in contemporary Islamic societies. (Photograph taken by Larry Barns
© Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels / Hirshhorn Museum, SI)

Finding a Voice for Iranian Women

Artist Shirin Neshat uses Persian poetry to reveal the conflict between tradition and modernity

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Poetry infuses Persian culture, from its religious mysticism to its contemporary cinema. The Iranian-born, New York-based photographer and filmmaker Shirin Neshat believes that Iran’s history of censorship turned people to metaphor because it conveys “what we cannot say overtly.” Women, of course, have felt especially restricted.

In Untitled (Women of Allah), one from a series on view in a retrospective opening this month at the Hirshhorn Museum, Neshat inscribed selections from a poem by Forough Farrokhzad, the celebrated female Iranian poet, onto a hand pressed to gently closed lips. The passage compares a woman’s desires to a garden dying in the summer heat. Because traditional Persian society compels women to passivity, a simple gesture can have expressive power, Neshat explains. “The hand, the gaze, the mouth—the things that are allowed to be seen are very poignant.”

About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.

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