Shirin Neshat is known for her poetic and beautiful photographs and video films portraying Islamic culture in conceptual and stylized form. Being an Iranian living most of her life in exile in USA, she has with strength portrayed the many complexities within current Islamic culture, between religion and secularization, women and men, tradition and modernity, Eat and West. She is thus providing us with more varied images of fundamental human problems in contemporary Islamic culture, rather than the simplistic, stereotypically negative images of Islam we have become used to seeing in the media after 9/11.
“Women without Men” is a series of 5 films that Shirin Neshat has created between 2004-2008. The film narratives are based on the controversial magical realist novel “Women without Men” from 1989 by the Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur, whose entire literary ouvre is banned in Iran today.
In five parallel sequences, Shirin Neshat portrays the lives of five Iranian Women in 1953, an important year in Iranianrecent history as the democratically elected prime minister was removed in a coup d’état mounted by American and British forces, whose task it was to reinstate the Shah, in order to avoid the nationalisation of the country’s oil resources.
Shirin Neshat is not creating a straightforward film version of the novel but rather her own interpretation of the five female main characters: Mahdokht, Zarin, Munis, Faezeh and Farokh Legha. Shirin Neshat retains the magic realism of the novel and allows the supernatural and surreal to interact with the stories.
We follow them in their personal dilemmas, struggle for freedom and survival in a society that lays down strict rules regarding religion, sexual and social behaviour.
It is an aesthetically overwhelming and mentally absorbing experience to see “Women without Men”. Shirin Neshat is one of the most important and most interesting contemporary artists today, bringing into focus the importance of cultural differences.
As viewers we are facing films in farsi without translation – we are brought into the uncertain role of being the listeners and the viewers to something we do not immediately understand – a role people from other cultures are brought to on a daily basis in our time of globalisation and migration.
Art is a language that can cross cultural barriers and by bringing Shirin Neshat’s perspective from the Middle East to China, hopefully we are able open up the discussion further.