Shirin Neshat

Source: edited and extended from Wikipedia

Shirin Neshat (Persian: شیرین نشاط‎‎; born March 26, 1957) is an Iranian visual artist who lives in New York City, known primarily for her work in film, video and photography. 

Her artwork centers around the contrasts between Islam and the West, femininity and masculinity, public life and private life, antiquity and modernity, and bridging the spaces between these subjects. Neshat often emphasizes this theme showing two or more coordinated films concurrently, creating stark visual contrasts through motifs such as light and dark, black and white, male and female.

Although Neshat actively resists stereotypical representations of Islam, her artistic objectives are not explicitly polemical. Rather, her work recognizes the complex intellectual and religious forces shaping the identity of Muslim women throughout the world. Using Persian poetry and calligraphy she examined concepts such as martyrdom, the space of exile, the issues of identity and femininity.

Neshat has been recognized countless times for her work, from winning the International Award of the XLVIII Venice Biennalein 1999, to winning the Silver Lion for best director at the 66th Venice Film Festival in 2009, to being named Artist of the Decade by Huffington Post critic G. Roger Denson.

In July 2009 Neshat took part in a three-day hunger strike at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in protest of the 2009 Iranian presidential election.


Neshat’s earliest works were photographs exploring notions of femininity in relation to Islamic fundamentalism and militancy in her home country as a way of coping with the discrepancy between the culture that she was experiencing and that of the pre-revolution Iran in which she was raised.

Unveiling (1993):

Women of Allah (1993–97):  portraits of women entirely overlaid by Persian calligraphy.

Logic of the Birds 2001-02 a full-length multimedia production with singer Sussan Deyhim and produced by curator and art historian RoseLee Goldberg. Neshat uses sound to help create an emotionally evocative and beautiful piece that will resonate with viewers of both Eastern and Western cultures.

Neshat has also made more traditional narrative short films, such as Zarin.

Book of Kings series




  • Turbulent, 1998. Two channel video/audio installation.
  • Rapture, 1999. Two channel video/audio installation.
  • Soliloquy, 1999. Color video/audio installation with artist as the protagonist.
  • Fervor, 2000. Two channel video/audio installation.
  • Passage, 2001. Single channel video/audio installation.
  • Logic of the Birds, 2002. Multi-media performance.
  • Tooba, 2002. Two channel video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
  • Mahdokht, 2004. Three channel video/audio installation.
  • Zarin, 2005. Single channel video/audio installation.
  • Munis, 2008. Color video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
  • Faezeh, 2008. Color video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
  • Possession, 2009. Black & white video/audio installation.
  • Women Without Men, 2009. Feature film based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
  • Illusions & Mirrors, 2013. Film commissioned by Dior and featuring Natalie Portman.


Neshat is the fourth of five children of wealthy parents, brought up in the religious town of Qazvin in north-western Iran under a “very warm, supportive Muslim family environment”, where she learned traditional religious values through her maternal grandparents. Neshat’s father was a physician and her mother a homemaker. Neshat said that her father, “fantasized about the west, romanticized the west, and slowly rejected all of his own values; both my parents did. What happened, I think, was that their identity slowly dissolved, they exchanged it for comfort. It served their class”.

As a part of Neshat’s “Westernization” she was enrolled in a Catholic boarding school in Tehran. Through her father’s acceptance of Western ideologies came an acceptance of a form of western feminism. Neshat’s father encouraged each of his daughters to “be an individual, to take risks, to learn, to see the world”, and he sent his daughters as well as his sons to college to receive their higher education.

In 1975, Neshat left Iran to study art at UC Berkeley and completed her BA, MA and MFA.

After graduating school, she moved to New York and married a Korean curator, Kyong Park, who was the director and founder of Storefront for Art and Architecture, a non-profit organization. Neshat helped Park run the Storefront, where she was exposed to many different ideologies and it would become a place where she received a much needed experience with and exposure to concepts that would later become integral to her artwork.

During this time, she did not make any serious attempts at creating art, and the few attempts were subsequently destroyed.

In 1990, she returned to Iran. “It was probably one of the most shocking experiences that I have ever had. The difference between what I had remembered from the Iranian culture and what I was witnessing was enormous. The change was both frightening and exciting; I had never been in a country that was so ideologically based. Most noticeable, of course, was the change in people’s physical appearance and public behavior.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art – especially the decorative arts – that was most popular during 1890–1910.  Art Nouveau is known as Jugendstil  in Germany, Modern in Russia,  Modernisme in Catalonia,  Secession in Austria-Hungary and Stile Liberty in Italy. Art Nouveau tendencies were also absorbed into local styles. In Denmark, for example, it was one aspect of Skønvirke (“aesthetic work”), which itself more closely relates to the Arts and Crafts style. Likewise, artists adopted many of the floral and organic motifs of Art Nouveau into the Młoda Polska (“Young Poland”) style in Poland.

Origins and influences

The origins of Art Nouveau are found in the resistance of the artist William Morris to the cluttered compositions and the revival tendencies of the 19th century and his theories that helped initiate the Arts and crafts movement.

The first realisation is often considered Arthur Mackmurdo’s book-cover for Wren’s City Churches (1883), with its rhythmic floral patterns.

A key influence was Japonisme with its organic forms and references to the natural world that was popular in Europe during the 1880s and 1890s. The flat perspective and strong colors of Japanese wood block prints, especially those of Katsushika Hokusai, had a strong effect on the formulation of Art Nouveau.


Art Nouveau is considered a “total” art style, embracing architecture, graphic art, interior design, and most of the decorative arts including jewelery, furniture, textiles, household silver and other utensils and lighting, as well as the fine arts. It s viewed by some as the first self-conscious attempt to create a modern style. It was a reaction to academic art of the 19th century, inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines.

 decorative “whiplash” motifs, formed by dynamic, undulating, and flowing lines in a syncopated rhythm and asymmetrical shape


A description published in Pan magazine of Hermann Obrist‘s wall hanging Cyclamen (1894) described it as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip”


Fine Art and Graphics

Aubrey Beardsley

Alphonse Mucha

Edward Burne-Jones

Gustav Klimt

Jan Toorop

As an art style, Art Nouveau has affinities with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolist styles,Unlike Symbolist painting, however, Art Nouveau has a distinctive appearance; and, unlike the artisan-oriented Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau artists readily used new materials, machined surfaces, and abstraction in the service of pure design.


The style was the first major artistic stylistic movement in which mass-produced graphics (as opposed to traditional forms of printmaking, which were not very important for the style) played a key role, often techniques of colour printing developed relatively recently.

A key influence was the Paris-based Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, who produced a lithographed poster, which appeared on 1 January 1895 in the streets of Paris as an advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou, featuring Sarah Bernhardt. It popularised the new artistic style and its creator to the citizens of Paris. Initially named Style Mucha, (Mucha Style), his style soon became known as Art Nouveau in France. Mucha’s work has continued to experience periodic revivals of interest for illustrators and artists. Interest in Mucha’s distinctive style experienced a strong revival during the 1960s with a general interest in Art Nouveau.

However, Art Nouveau was not limited to Mucha’s style solely but was interpreted differently by artists from around the world as the movement spread. Artists such as Gustav Klimt, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Jan Toorop, René Lalique, Antoni Gaudí and Louis Comfort Tiffany, created Art Nouveau works in their own manner.Magazines like Jugend helped publicise the style in Germany, especially as a graphic artform, while the Vienna Secessionists influenced art and architecture throughout Austria-Hungary.

Two-dimensional Art Nouveau pieces were painted, drawn, and printed in popular forms such as advertisements, posters, labels, magazines, and the like.Japanese wood-block prints, with their curved lines, patterned surfaces, contrasting voids, and flatness of visual plane, also inspired Art Nouveau. Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from many parts of the world.


Art Nouveau did not eschew the use of machines, as the Arts and Crafts Movement did. For sculpture, the principal materials employed were glass and wrought iron, resulting in sculptural qualities even in architecture. Ceramics were also employed in creating editions of sculptures by artists such as Auguste Rodin.

Architecture and interior design

Art Nouveau in architecture and interior design eschewed the eclectic revival styles of the 19th century. Though Art Nouveau designers selected and ‘modernised’ some of the more abstract elements of Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures, they also advocated the use of very stylised organic forms as a source of inspiration, expanding the ‘natural’ repertoire to use seaweed, grasses, and insects. The softly-melding forms of 17th-century auricular style, best exemplified in Dutch silverware, was another influence.

Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. Hyperbolas and parabolas in windows, arches, and doors are common, and decorative mouldings ‘grow’ into plant-derived forms. Japanese-inspired art and design was championed by the businessmen Siegfried Bing and Arthur Lasenby Liberty at their stores in Paris and London, respectively.Like most design styles, The text above the Paris Metro entrance uses the qualities of the rest of the iron work in the structure.
Art Nouveau architecture made use of many technological innovations of the late 19th century, especially the use of exposed iron and large, irregularly shaped pieces of glass for architecture. By the start of World War I, however, the stylised nature of Art Nouveau design—which was expensive to produce—began to be disused in favour of more streamlined, rectilinear modernism, which was cheaper and thought to be more faithful to the plainer industrial aesthetic that became Art Deco.
  • Victor Horta
  • Paul Hankar

Art Nouveau and the Erotic

From VandA Article

A fetishistic concentration on the erotic potential of the object is implicit in much Art Nouveau – echoing fin  de siècle obsessions in novels and literature when the erotic briefly came to denote the modern.
Art Nouveau produced erotic sculptural or decorative domestic objects : ink-wells, carafes, centrepieces, candelabra, lamps and figurines – that manipulated the female body to create often playful symbolic narratives. These objects demanded contact – furniture or carafes where the handles are naked women that must be grasped; vessels that metamorphose into women inviting touch; lamps that provocatively pose women in suggestive positions.

Some were mildly erotic, some were much more direct and in some instances pornographic:

  • Rupert Carabin’s chair of 1898 plays with the physical restraint of the body. A bound female is made to support and envelope a presumably male user. It is a vision of erotic subjugation that is powerfully disturbing.
  • Max Blondat’s humorous door knocker designed for a Parisian brothel, is of a nude female figure peering into the interior of the brothel while simultaneously signifying the pleasures to be obtained within.

The scale of the production and dissemination of these kinds of objects denoted a widespread ‘taste for the erotic’, not only among upper-class and aristocratic collectors of the more explicit and expensive objects, but also by the middle classes, concerned to achieve the height of modern decorative style in their homes.

The end of the century also saw the advent of mass advertising. Just as the promise of sex could fill the theatres of Paris, so sex could sell anything from cigarettes and cars to painting and poetry. The erotic content in Art Nouveau advertising ranged from the subtle to the explicit. Designers did not just aim to sell the promise of sexual fulfillment to a male audience, but also, and extremely significantly, they were selling the idea of a sophisticated, decorative and glamorous identity to women – increasingly the dominant consumers. As it was women who often held the domestic purse strings, it was they who came to be associated with shopping.

Traditional gender divides were reinforced through the symbolic use of male and female imagery. Women’s capacities were traditionally perceived as being for pleasure and instinct. Designers often used used the female body to sell products and for entertainment.

Many designers used women to sell products.:
  • Alphonse Mucha created images of woman that epitomised the sophisticated and decorative Art Nouveau woman. His strategy of combining women with products sold a lifestyle dream, just as lifestyle became an issue for a growing metropolitan middle class with a disposable income.
  • Gallen-Kallela’s poster Bil-bol for a car dealer makes the promise of sexual fulfillment explicit: in an adaptation of a traditional Finnish folk story, a naked woman is violently snatched and restrained.
  • Leo Putz’s woman in Moderne Galerie seems to offer sex in a playful and surprisingly modern way. The idiom of Putz’s woman is that of the Bond girl. Putz in fact produced explicit erotic material, as did a number of prominent Art Nouveau graphic artists such as Fritz Erier and Aubrey Beardsley.

Designers used the male body to promote industry and technology – Men’s capacities were perceived as being for action and intellect. The perfect male body emerged in many images of the period, most often when the subject-matter demanded a ‘serious’ approach.The Italian designer Marcello Dudovich’s poster Fisso l’idea employs the muscularity and erotic potential of the male figure to promote ink and pigments. Leopoldo Metlicovitz, Gustav Klimt and Adolf Munzer all created images that used the male body to denote virility and action. These images, although not overtly erotic, sit within and promote the Classical homoerotic ‘cult’ of the male.

Homoeroticism and androgyny

Wilhelm von Gloeden, 'Two Seated Sicilian Youths', about 1900. Museum no. 2815-1952

Wilhelm von Gloeden, ‘Two Seated Sicilian Youths’, about 1900. Museum no. 2815-1952

The fin de siècle not only witnessed the formation of various constructions of female sexuality, but also the crystallisation of attitudes towards male sexuality. Decadence had become increasingly associated with non-conformity, and sexuality was perceived as another area for experimentation. Photography became a particularly rich area for homoerotic depiction in the period. Works by Baron von Gloedon and Fred Holland Day concentrated on representing the nude male body, both adult and child, often in erotic poses. An important element in homoerotic depiction was androgyny. Androgyny provided a vehicle free from restrictive gender codes and often allowing disturbing messages to be conveyed. Many fin de siècle artists used the androgyne to represent the resolution of what Octave Uzanne called the ‘eternal misery of the body fretted by the soul’. The androgyne could be both man and woman, adult or child, and became the ultimate fin de siècle enigmatic erotic symbol, simultaneously denying sex and providing endless erotic possibilities. Sar Piladan, leader of the Symbolist Rose+Croix group, described the androgyne as the ‘nightmare of decadence’, ‘the sex that denies sex, the sex of eternity’.

Art Nouveau style was short-lived, collapsing finally in the years prior to the First World War. The fundamental subversiveness of eroticism, its disregard for conventional morality or social structures, was  seen as a destabilising factor as functionality and technological progression came to signify the new modernity,

Art, drawing, and graphics links

Varvara Stepanova

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Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958)

Russian painter, photographer and designer. She was influential as member of the Russian avant-garde movement and, later in her career, she would refer to herself as a constructivist. Her work shows a direct influence of the Cubists and the Futurist art movements and she spent her career dedicated to trying to use her work to create revolutionary change within society.

Varvara Stepanova was born in a peasant family in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania. In 1910 she entered the Kazan Art School, where she met Rodchenko, her future husband and life-long colleague. Still at school she bought herself a Singer sewing machine, worked as a seamstress and learned dress design. She designed Cubo-Futurist work for several artists’ books, and studied under Jean Metzinger at Académie de La Palette, an art academy where the painters André Dunoyer de Segonzac and Henri Le Fauconnier also taught. She was a friend of the feminist artist and printmaker Lubov Popova.

In the years before the Russian Revolution of 1917 she and Rodchenko leased an apartment in Moscow, owned by Wassily Kandinsky. In 1917 Stepanova began creating her innovative non-objective and graphic poetry, based on expressive combinations of sounds and their corresponding expression in form and color. In 1918 she published her books of graphic poetry “Rtny Khonle”, “Zigra Ar”, “Globolkim”. In her 1919 series of “Figures” the artist has moved towards shematization of the human figure. She painted them in geometrical simplified forms, in vivid and bold colors, against dark background or made of larger forms, busy with some kind of well-familiar human activity and social interaction: dance, play, music, walk. Rarely did the subject repeat. There is almost no trace of brush strokes, the paint was applied directly over a stecil plate, making the texture uniform. For the figures of 1920 a white backround was introduced, disattaching the figures as it was from their surroundings. At this time she also worked as assistant director of the Art and Literature section of IZO Narkompros (1919-1920).

In the years following the revolution, Stepanova involved herself in poetry, philosophy, painting, graphic art, stage scenery construction, and textile and clothing designs. She contributed work to the Fifth State Exhibition and the Tenth State Exhibition, both in 1919.

In 1921, together with Aleksei Gan, Rodchenko and Stepanova formed the first Working Group of Constructivists, (the INKhUK 1920-1923) and was their research secretary. Together they redefined the concepts of composition and construction – they considered an object’s form already incorporated most of the construction and composition in its very structure; and therefore the designer artist’s role was to help bring it together in practical ways by use of colour and material design. They rejected fine art in favour of graphic design, photography, posters, and political propaganda.

In her paper on Constructivism Stepanova wrote: “Industry and technology are developing continuously. … The realization of ideal beauty is thereby eliminated as a function of artistic activity, forcing the artist to move into industrial production in order to apply his objective knowledge of forms and constructions.” And then: “The intellect is our point of departure, taking the place of the ‘soul’ of idealism. From this it follows that, on the whole, Constructivism is also intellectual production (And not thought alone) incompatible with the spiritualuty of artistic activity”.

In 1920-1921 the Constructivism group advanced from their definition “from invention to construction” to “from construction production”. They attempted to introduce various production art into the VKhUTEMAS.

In 1920-1922 Stepanova was a member of the Presidium of the IZO section of the Union of Art Workers (RABIS), and taught in the studio at Krupskaya Academy for Communist Education (1920-1925).

A pair of “5×5=25” exhibitions was held in the Union of Poets hall, with participation of five artists (A. Vesnin, L.Popova, A.Rodchenko, V.Stepanova, A.Exter), exhibiting five works each. The forum was used to announce the mvoe of the Constructivism artists from the easel to design and production. The second of the two, which was dedicated to graphic works, included designs  for construction of stage portals. This attracted the interest of Meierkhold, who invited Popova nad Stepanova to work in his theater.

Stepanova declared in her text for the 1921 exhibition 5×5=25, held in Moscow:

Composition is the contemplative approach of the artist. Technique and Industry have confronted art with the problem of construction as an active process and not reflective. The ‘sanctity’ of a work as a single entity is destroyed. The museum which was the treasury of art is now transformed into an archive’.

Theatre sets

She designed the sets for The Death of Tarelkin in 1922. An adaptaion of play by A.Sokhovo-Kobylin, this was a total innovation in the theatre world. Stepanova made her set fully interactive with the actors and their play. The set was a combination of individual mechanical devices, designed to look like the most basic furniture, uniform in appearance and transforming at the actor’s will. The play itself included acrobatics and other fair-entertainment performance techniques, which interacted neatly with the set. The costumes were made of dark blue and light gray fablic, in stark geometric design.

Clothing design and textiles

In clothing design Stepanova developed the approach of “prozodezhda” (professional clothing) at a new angle: she differentiated between several groups of clothing, according to utilization. She designed several basic models, which could then be modified for the particular profession. In all she made the distiction between working “prozodezhda”, “sportodezhda” (sport clothing) and “spetzodezhda” (specialized clothing incorporating extra requirements, as for pilots, surgeons, firement etc). In article printed in the journal “LEF” 1923 the following observation is made: “Fashion, which psychologically reflects our daily life, habits and aestethic taste, is giving way to clothing organized for working in various branches of labor, for a specific social function, to clothing which can be worn only during the work process, to clothing which had no self-sufficient value outside real life”.

In addition, she considered that the clothing has no need of additional decoration. The very seams, the design, the pockets, the fastening etc. are to provide the form; while the fabric design gives the color and visual pattern.

From here the next step of fabric design was a very logical transition. Stepanova wrote: “We are now approaching a point where a gulf separating the fabric itself and the ready-made garment is becoming a serious obstacle to improving the quality of our cloting production. Itis time to move from designing clothing to designing the structure of fabric. This will allow the textile industry to jettison its present excessive variety, and help it standardize and improve, at long last, the quality of its production”.

In the year the artist worked at the First Textile Printing factory she  designed more than 150 different fabrics. About two dozen were put into production. This was the very action upon the slogan “from construction into production”. Popova and Stepanova did not limit themselves in the textile industry with pattern design of the fabric. They were actively involved in incorporating designs into the production process, perfecting the printing processes; worked out models and cuts. To understand the processes and work together with its technological developers and engineers was essential in their approach. They strived to incorporate the design from within the very fabric, weave it in, dye it in, design the very physical properties of the fabric. And outside the process – there was the advertising of the industry and its achievements.

In 1923 Stepanova became professor in the Textile Department at VKhUTEMAS. She held the view that the faculty needed to teach designer-artists, “artist-constructor in the textile industry, not an applied artist”. She made her students carry a special notebook, noting in it the people’s manner of dress, then anylizing it; created assignments of designing window-displays for fabric stores; designing actual clothes for people.Book illustration was Stepanova’s most consistent activity for over 30 years, from 1924 to 1958. In this field she was able to fully exploit her organizational and managerial skills along with the artistic and technical design of the polygraphic industry. She was a permanent staff member of the journals “LEF” and “New LEF” in 1923-1927. In 1933-1934 she served as an art editor for the “Partizdat” publishing house. When the conditions became difficult, in the 30s, 40s and 50s, she was forced to move more to the duties of technical editor, publisher and editorial secretary. But in the 20s this was the industry most suitable for the graphic expression of Constructivism – in the book, the poster, the periodicals of the time.

During the WWII Stepanova and Rodchenko were evacuated to Perm and Ocher in Molotov District, and worked in the Ocher Agit-poster studio (1941-1942). At the end of 1942 they returned to their old apartment in Moscow.

Varvara Stepanova has died May 20th 1958



Guerilla Girls

Guerilla Girls, a feminist group fighting sexism in arts practice. Formed in New York in 1985, the group maintain their anonymity by wearing gorilla masks and using the names of dead female artists as pseudonyms, e.g. Frida Kahlo and Hannah HÖch. They put pressure on organisations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by uncovering statistics that reveal the extent of patriarchy in the art world past and present. The original group disbanded in 2001 but several Guerrilla Girl spin-offs still exist. Recent campaigns include ‘Unchain female directors’ targeted at the male-dominated world of the Hollywood film studio.