Home Magazine Shirin Neshat's Land of Dreams

There are female artists in the World that have reshaped the religious and political symbols, language and imagery of their traditional cultures in such a powerful and unique way to become legendary. The Iranian-born, New York-based Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) is one of the most significant photographer and filmmaker working today, that has moulded alternative and utterly poetic worlds - in the tension between film and performance - from Persian sadness, oppression and dark times.  In February her latest project, “Land of Dreams”, repositioning, for the first time, Neshat’s observation lenses was inaugurated in London.

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Shirin Neshat, Rebellious Silence, Women of Allah series, 1994, B&W RC print & ink, photo by Cynthia Preston.
Courtesy of the Artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York. 


In the 1970s, in Qazvin, a small village in North-Western Iran, Shirin Neshat experienced the Iranian Islamic revolution and the rise of radical Islam. Quite the opposite, Neshat wasn’t used to artistic impulse: she has never been to a museum and none of her relatives was keen on practising any relevant form of art. Instead, protected by the tranquillity of her father’s orchard, she read lots of poetry and literature. Her mind started to create parallel worlds, her imagination - like Iranian poetess - visualized metaphors and ideas. It’s still a total mystery to Neshat how her original instinct, nurtured by books, led her to the creative process. The “Magic Realism” that distinguishes the feature Women Without Men - winner of the best director award at the Venice Film Festival in 2009 and which consecrated her as an artist of international fame - is not necessarily inspired by the Art History.

Shirin Neshat, Allegiance with Wakefulness, Women of Allah series, 1994, B&W RC print & ink.
Courtesy of the Artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.


Shirin Neshat, Untitled, Women of Allah series, 1996, B&W RC print & ink.
Courtesy of the Artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.


Therefore, Neshat has chosen Persian calligraphy and the idea of corporeity as starting points for her exploration, with a particular devotion to tension and contradiction. «Calligraphy is sacred, it’s emotion, while the body is real, exists in this world and represents our humanity», narrates Neshat, a gentle, solid, enchanting woman - her eyes always framed in black kajal and her ears and neck embellished with peculiar jewels, which she has been collected from all over the world. Everything she creates addresses the concepts of friction and paradox: man/woman, nature/culture, black/white. The depths of human nature, above and beyond feminine. The way she uses inscription on the naked body, in her seminal photograph series Women of Allah (1993-1997), is because, very often, the female body is so silent, so submissive, as to plead for its release. Shirin Neshat gives voice, conceptually and visually, to something that his inner voice had lost. Her artistic expression is a prayer that provides a safe space. 


Shirin Neshat. Courtesy of the Artist


Shirin Neshat, Land of Dreams, Installation View, 20 February - 28 March 2020.
© Shirin Neshat and Goodman Gallery, London.


Shirin Neshat, Aria Hernandez, from Land of Dreams series, 2019, C-print & ink
© Shirin Neshat and Goodman Gallery, London.


Neshat’s recent and first solo exhibition in London in two decades, Land of Dreams, at Goodman Gallery, for once engages with the “Western World”, where she, since 1990, has lived in exile. Even rarer for her practice, in the “land of dreams” both media converge, over sixty photographic portraits and two video installations, to give an overview of contemporary America under the Trump administration. Neshat «turns the lens towards her host country», by sticking to her strengths: black and white pure and condensate images, dream-like atmospheres, minimalistic approach. A fictional Iranian photographer, Simin, takes us on a dramatic journey through the vastness of rural America. She captures the social and political presence of Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics of different ages and genders and records their dreams. These portraits, inscribed with hand-written Farsi calligraphy, constitute an important sanctuary where the evanescence of dreams meets the marginalized lives’ cruel tangibility. In the Land of Dreams project, men, women and children, like Bruce Lorenzo, Paulita Cowboy and Aria Hernandez, stay still in front of the camera, affirming with dignity their existence and rights, chasing their lost voices.  

Cover image: Shirin Neshat, Still from Women Without Men, 2009, Photo by Larry Barns, Courtesy of the Artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Written by Petra Chiodi

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