Shirin Neshat - Kvinner uten menn

FervorFor drøye fem år siden oppdaget jeg den iranskfødte kunstneren og fotografen Shirin Neshat, da kun stilte ut på Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst. Spesielt merket jeg meg videoinstallasjon av med tittelen "Fervor".

Shirin Neshat er kjent for foto- og videoarbeider som visualiserer kvinners stilling i hennes fødeland Iran. Det er særlig den religiøst pålagte atskillelsen av kjønnene og forandringen i kvinnenes situasjon som har opptatt henne. Filmen "Turbulent" er et eksempel:

Neshat er nå aktuell med filmen "Women without Men", som må sees i lys av en bildeserie med samme navn, fra 2005, og romanen Women without Men skrevet av den iranske forfatteren Shahrnush Parsipur i 1989. Handlingen i boken kretser rundt fem ulike kvinneskikkelser i Teheran i året 1953. Deres skjebner blir på forskjellig vis påvirket av de omfattende politiske endringene som fant sted dette året. Den demokratisk valgte statsministeren ble styrtet ved hjelp av britiske og amerikanske styrker, og kupplederne gjeninnsatte Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi som enehersker. Tross Shah’ens sterke vestlige orientering representerte han et styre preget av politisk undertrykkelse og tortur.

”Neshat has directed a quietly tremendous film which ensnares both the heart and the mind.” Sitatet er hentet fra The Guardians omtale av filmen, og som kommer på kino fra og med 29. oktober, takket være norsk distribusjon via Arthaus. 

Tidligere har Neshat laget fem kortfilmer og flere fotografier rundt hver av de fem kvinneskjebnene fra Parsipurs roman. Historiene deres handler om seksualitet og uvitenhet, om angst, tabuer og undertrykkelse, men også om motstand. Og om hvordan kontrollen av den kvinnelige seksualiteten, dels fra samfunnets side og dels fra menn og andre kvinner, blir en viktig parameter i utøvelse av makt.

Den unge jenta på bildet er en av skikkelsene i Zarins verden. I filmen møter vi denne karakteren i det hun ankommer bordellet og blir innlemmet i stedets skikker og rutiner. Hun representerer kontinuiteten i undertrykkelsen.

Et intervju med Shirin Neshat, gjort av Susan Horsburgh for TIME Europe, men som nå finnes via

« No Place Like Home »

Susan Horsburgh: Why did you begin your Women of Allah series?

Shirin Neshat: On a very personal level I had a lot of questions I needed to answer for myself ... The Revolution had transformed the country. My work was really coming to terms with the ideology of the Islamic regime and the Revolution ... I was making it for myself. I was more trying to raise questions as opposed to answering them. So these images have that kind of naivete of an artist living abroad, returning and very sincerely wanting to understand.

S.H: How is the Iran of today different from the country of your childhood?

S.N: During the Shah's regime, we had a very open, free environment. There was a kind of dilution between West and East — the way we looked and the way we lived. When I went back everything seemed changed. There seemed to be very little color. Everyone was black or white. All the women wearing the black chadors. It was immediately shocking. Street names had changed from old Persian names to Arabic and Muslim names ... This whole shift of the Persian identity toward a more Islamic one created a kind of crisis. I think to this day there's a great sense of grief that goes with that.

S.H: Do you regret leaving?

S.N: Leaving has offered me incredible personal development, a sense of independence that I don't think I would have had. But there's also a great sense of isolation. And I've permanently lost a complete sense of center. I can never call any place home. I will forever be in a state of in-between.
One constantly has to negotiate back and forth between one culture and the other and often they're not just different, they're in complete conflict ... Now that I have gained a sense of individualism being in America it's really hard for me to give all of that up and be in places where that doesn't exist. But it's also very satisfying to be part of a collective where individual interest doesn't drive the whole thing ... The work is more and more [about] my desire for reconciliation with my past and my culture.

S.H: Why are people in the West so fascinated by Islam?

S.N: It's so different from what they are. When you look at a culture that is so different, you start questioning yourself ... The way in which Islamic ideology has been growing rapidly around the Middle East is [seen as] a threat ... It's not even religion. It's like the Soviet Union, communism, which was once a threat. I think that Islam is very often dismissed because that ideology doesn't fit into the kind of rationality that the western world has.

S.H: Are you trying to upset the stereotypes?

S.N: I'm an artist so I'm not an activist. I don't have an agenda. I'm creating work simply to entice a dialog and that's all. I do tend to show the stereotype head on and then break it down. There's the stereotype about the women — they're all victims and submissive — and they're not. Slowly I subvert that image by showing in the most subtle and candid way how strong these women are.

S.H: Why are the women holding guns in your photographs?

S.N: It's addressing the topic of the Revolution and the fact that we cannot separate ideas of religion and spirituality from politics and violence. It very much deals with that idea of martyrdom, which can be identified as terrorism. I'm trying to present this paradox where a typical martyr stands on the border of love of God and devotion and faith on one hand and crime and cruelty and violence on the other ... They're willing to commit a crime because they love God. That is such a strange ideology and that can only be understood from the Islamic perspective if you look at their history ... the obsession with death and a rejection of the material world. You live your whole life to promote Islam and when you die you get rewarded. So you're congratulated for your death, which is a very bizarre mentality.

S.H: Where did you get the idea for Turbulent, the first of the trilogy?

S.N: It was inspired by the fact that women are forbidden from performing or recording music [in Iran] ... If music is an expression of mysticism and spirituality, how interesting that the man could have that experience but the woman could not. How does a woman go about having that experience of mysticism? ... The woman [in Turbulent] breaks all the rules, first by appearing in a theater where she's not supposed to be. But then her music breaks all the norms of classical music. It's not tied to language. It's improvised. So we create a sense of opposites ... but we also speak about how women reach a certain kind of freedom, how women become incredibly rebellious and unpredictable in this society whereas men end up staying within the conformed way of living.

S.H: How do you want your art to affect people?

S.N: I like works that take my breath away or make me want to cry ... almost a religious experience. I'm creating a very brief experience for people so they can take away with them not some heavy political statement but something that really touches them on the most emotional level.