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Detroit Institute of Arts presents extraordinary work of Iranian American Artist Shirin Neshat - Exhibition includes video installations, photographs dealing with gender, politics and identity

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

(Detroit)—The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) presents Shirin Neshat, a mid-career retrospective of Iranian American artist Shirin Neshat, April 7–July 7. Neshat is known for her exceptional photography, films and video installations that deal with issues of gender, politics and identity.

This exhibition is the first major showing of Neshat’s work in more than 10 years and is free with museum admission. Shirin Neshat is organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Generous support has been provided by the MetLife Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Neshat was born in Qazvin, Iran, in 1957 and grew up during a relatively progressive time in that country’s history for women and the arts. Shortly after she came to the United States for her studies, Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution brought a conservative regime to power. As restrictions on expression, dissent, and the activities of women increased in her homeland, Neshat explored the relationship between the personal and the political, and the individual and the nation. She has spent most of her adult life in the United States.

The photography and video installations represent 20 years of Neshat’s work. Her richly complex images integrate issues related to Iranian politics and history, images of Muslim women and references to Iranian literature. Her art explores the spaces between her personal aspirations, extraordinary life story, and socio-political situation in Iran, and, by extension, the Muslim world. Though deeply rooted in her Iranian background, Neshat’s work also incorporates universal themes of empowerment, loss, sacrifice, and the human desire for expression.

“The Detroit Institute of Arts is thrilled and privileged to present this comprehensive exhibition of Shirin Neshat’s art, which shows many of her photographs and videos together for the first time,” said Graham W.J. Beal, DIA director. “When I first viewed her work in 2000, I was particularly entranced by the serenity and stark beauty of what I saw, qualities that pervade Neshat’s work even as she engages with the demanding issues of power, gender and social values.”

Shirin Neshat includes Neshat’s early video installations Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Fervor (2000), which explore gender roles in Iran and other conservative Muslim cultures. In Turbulent, Neshat addresses Iranian laws imposed after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that prohibited women from singing in public. Rapture is a nonverbal, visual poem where groups of men and women occupy separate realms, alternating their observations of each other. In Fervor, Neshat quietly and powerfully examines cultural attitudes about desire and sexuality in traditional Muslim cultures.

Also included are Tooba (2002) and her recent video installation Women Without Men (2011). Tooba was Neshat’s first work made after September 11, 2001. Living and working as an Iranian in New York City at that time, she struggled to process the tragedy that took place on her doorstep. The resultant tide of U.S. policies and anti-Muslim sentiment caused her to question whether she and other Muslims were fully accepted in their adopted home. In Tooba, Neshat shifted her focus from Iranian gender politics to the human desire for sanctuary.

Women Without Men was adapted from a novel written by Shahrnush Parsipur. The three video installations included in the exhibition (there are five, total), follow three female characters: Munis, an aspiring political activist; Mahdokht, a would-be mother; and Zarin, a prostitute. Their stories are set against the social and political backdrop of 1950s Iran. Neshat researched the period extensively to achieve realistic detail, from the decor of a brothel to demonstrations on the streets of Tehran. But as in the novel, Neshat creates disjointed timelines and imaginary, surreal elements to convey the emotional and psychological turmoil of the characters.

Neshat was drawn not only to the novel but also to the novelist. When Women Without Men was first published in 1989, Iranian authorities imprisoned Shahrnush Parsipur for writing openly about women’s sexuality and discontent. Parsipur’s novel and Neshat’s film remain banned in Iran.

Two series of photographs are also in the exhibition: Women of Allah (1993–97) and The Book of Kings. Women of Allah examines the status of women in Iran after its shift from secular to conservative religious rule. The Book of Kings asks who possesses political power? A larger-than-life dictator? The overwhelming masses of ordinary people? Only a dedicated few? Or does power circulate between them all?

Related Activities

Lecture Series
GLOBAL IMAGINARIES│Individual Realities
This free lecture series offers a platform for artists and their communities to enter into a conversation about socially engaged art. The “imaginary” is a sociological term meaning the unspoken understanding between individuals in a society who adapt the same ethical, cultural and political frameworks. The “global imaginary” expands on this idea to describe the social networks emerging between people around the world, assisted by innovations in technology. Sponsored by Friends of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Center for the Study of Citizenship at Wayne State University. To register for any lecture, visit and click on “Lectures/Events.

Thursday, March 21, 7 p.m.
Arjun Appadurai
Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University, discusses art and artists whose work aims to raise social awareness by focusing on issues of identity and cultural production.

Wednesday, March 27, 7 p.m.
Shirin Neshat
Shirin Neshat’s work oscillates between the personal and universal, transcending preconceptions of culture, nationality, ethnicity and gender. She talks about her work as it relates to the global imaginary and about her work in the exhibition.

Wednesday, April 3, 7 p.m.
Alfredo Jaar
Artist, architect, and filmmaker Alfredo Jaar investigates ways that art can be used as a tool to awaken consciousness about social and global conditions that advance justice and how his multimedia installations solicit empathetic responses.

Sunday, April 7, 5:30 p.m.
Shirin Ebadi and a Conversation between Shirin Neshat and Shirin Ebadi
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Shirin Ebadi discusses her pioneering efforts to support democracy and human rights in Iran for the past 50 years. Her lecture is followed by a conversation about art and justice between Shirin Neshat and Ebadi, moderated by Hamid Dabashi, a sociologist of culture.

Wednesday, April 10, 7 p.m.
Esther Shalev-Gerz
Esther Shalev-Gerz, born in Lithuania, educated in Israel, and now living in Paris, uses photographs, videos, and multimedia installations to investigate the relationships between cultural memory, citizenship, and public space.

Wednesday, April 24, 7 p.m.
Trenton Doyle Hancock
Celebrated for his complex installations that include absurdist parables, Houston-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock makes paintings that address his roots as a black artist. His newest efforts show domestic settings that are set on end by a satirical take on life.

Exhibition Tour
Friday, April 26, 7 p.m.
Tour the exhibition with organizing curator Rebecca Hart and DIA interpreter Swarupa Anila. They will introduce the exhibition and be available in the galleries to answer questions.

Iranian Film Series
Thursday, March 7, 7 p.m.
Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels about her family life as a rebellious young woman in and out of Iran, both before and after Khomeini’s rule, have been adapted into a magical, daringly honest animated movie. The visual style perfectly matches the irrepressible spirit of Marjane, who as a teenager rebels at the restrictions of living in a theocracy while also wrestling with adolescence, American pop culture and first love, ultimately embarking on a search for her true place in the world. In French with English subtitles.

Thursday, March 14, 7 p.m.
Secret Ballot
A soldier is unhappy to discover that he’s obliged to obey the orders of a young female election agent charged with collecting votes in a remote region, by accompanying her on her rounds with jeep and rifle. Not happy with taking orders from a woman, the young man is deeply stressed by the events of the day, and yet, as they get to know each other, they grudgingly begin to form a bond of respect. Only when the election is over does the soldier uncover the most surprising fact of all. In Persian with English subtitles.

Thursday, April 4, 7 p.m.
A Separation
A Separation is a family drama that morphs into a gripping legal thriller. Married couple Simin and Nader obtain coveted visas to leave Iran for a life in the United States, where Simin hopes to provide a more promising future for their 11-year-old daughter. But Nader isn’t comfortable abandoning his sick father. To help him care for the old man, Nader hires a deeply religious woman who takes the job unbeknownst to her husband; almost immediately there are complications, culminating in an incident that challenges perceptions of who (if anyone) is to blame, what really happened, and what the legal and moral implications may be. Academy Award®, Best Foreign Language Film. In Persian with English subtitles.

Friday, April 5, 7 p.m.
Women Without Men
Set in Iran in 1953 during the period of political turmoil that resulted in the overthrow of Iran’s Mossadegh government and the establishment of the shah’s dictatorship, Shirin Neshat’s Women Without Men interweaves the stories of four loosely connected Iranian women and their relationships with the men in their lives. Winner of the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Neshat brings an extraordinary sense of design, emotional control and political insight to her storytelling, resulting in a rich, haunting and powerful sense of time and place

Thursday, April 11, 7 p.m.
This fiction-documentary hybrid uses a sensational real-life event—the arrest of a young man on charges of fraudulently impersonating the well-known Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf—as the basis for a multilayered investigation into movies, identity, artistic creation, and the nature of existence, in which the real people from the case portray themselves on screen. In Persian with English subtitles. (98 min.)

Hours and Admission
Museum hours are 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesdays–Thursdays, 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for ages 6–17, and free for DIA members and residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. For membership information call 313-833-7971.


The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the premier art museums in the United States, is home to more than 60,000 works that comprise a multicultural survey of human creativity from ancient times through the 21st century. From the first Van Gogh painting to enter a U.S. museum (Self-Portrait, 1887), to Diego Rivera's world-renowned Detroit Industry murals (1932–33), the DIA's collection is known for its quality, range, and depth. The DIA’s mission is to create opportunities for all visitors to find personal meaning in art.

Programs are made possible with support from the City of Detroit and residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Contact: Pamela Marcil      313-833-7899