Persian artist Shirin Neshat is widely acclaimed for her portraits, photographs and videos that circle the themes of Islamic religion and culture, as well as displaced female identity. From this formidable body of work, her portraits overlaid with calligraphy stand as her most iconic pieces. Text, particularly poetry and religious treatises, figures prominently in Neshat’s oeuvre. For her 2012 exhibition at Gladstone Gallery, Neshat returned to this art form after a brief hiatus from calligraphy in which she worked mainly in video, producing the seminal film Women Without Men. The present work, Untitled, continues along this vein of handcrafted work, and it contains multiple drawings in ink, calligraphic excerpts and collage.
Given the centrality of calligraphy and text in Neshat’s creative practices, Untitled bring the traces of the artist’s hand to the forefront, and it connects Neshat to both her early and more recent works. Drawings of female hands and flowers spread across the pages with loose brushstrokes and pale washes of color, and newspaper clippings and photographs with ink drawings are taped over some of the original images in the book. The text appears loosely laid down, as if in a burst of inspiration and fevered creativity, and the work brims with vegetal scrolls and floral ornamentation.
Discussing the link between politics, portraiture and poetry in her art, Neshat states, “I thought that – both conceptually and visually – there could be a powerful connection between the contemporary faces of our courageous youth, an ancient mythological text, and illustrations of heroes” (S. Neshat, quoted in C. Wyma, “22 Questions for Shirin Neshat,” BLOUIN ARTINFO, February 6, 2012, accessed via http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/758728/22-questions-for-shirin-neshat, September 8, 2014). Untitled embodies these connections between the personal, communal, ancient and contemporary. By drawing attention to these issues in her art, Neshat masterfully exposes the charged politics of gender and power that are ongoing in Neshat’s home of Iran as well as throughout the world.
Shirin Neshat (b. 1957), Untitled. Graphite, ink and paper collage on printed book 12 1/5 x 8 4/5 x 1 1/ in. Published and executed in 2014.