Shirin Neshat: Living between politics and art

Clad in Western-style clothing, as opposed to the traditional Muslim veil – yet wearing heavy eye-defining makeup – Iranian video-artist and director Shirin Neshat is being honored at the New Horizons section of the 43rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival. The contrasts in her appearance reflect her strong personality and her work. The Iranian artist has been living in the USA since 1974, and her reputation as a prominent player in photography and video art has long been established. Her work evolves around contrasts – men and women, East and West – in an attempt to break the long-established stereotypes of women and Islam. Is her work purely artistic, or perhaps more political? «It is impossible to distinguish between the two. It is about deeply rooted sociopolitical realities in my country. Focusing on Muslim women and their relationships with men, one can get a reading of Muslim society. Men tend to be predictable, stagnant, while women are changing, they are unpredictable and far more exciting.» After graduating with a degree in art, Neshat is now using cinematic techniques in her work. «No one has to be entirely faithful to one particular kind of art, nowadays. I borrow from other mediums, mixing images as a means of narrating a story and, though I’m not a choreographer, I use choreography principles to work on facial movement.» Living in exile, Neshat views the distance in a positive way: «You can be sorry that you’re far away, or be happy being between two cultures. Personally, I feel at home in New York because the city was built on immigration. But I’m also constantly defending my own culture against prevailing simplifications and generalizations. Though I do get funding from the USA, I disagree entirely with its foreign policy.»

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