Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat

The Power Behind the Veil

"Nothing is ever beautiful without some disturbance or violence. That is why the melancholy of my works is so familiar to the people." Interview with the Iranian artist Shirin Neshat.

In many middle eastern cultures men are totally restrained from any expression of emotion, says Iranian artist Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) in this interview. "All my photographs are about controlled emotions. They are always a juxtaposition of the dark side of life and the good side of life. Of light and darkness. Pain and joy. Violence and mysticicism. The personal versus the social political."

"Being Iranian, we never had the luxury to relief our minds from the oppression of violence and injustice. The shadow of religion imposes brutality, atrocities, torture and prison. It is a part of our everyday reality."

Neshat is particularly focused on the role of women in society. "When I think about war, I don't see many women in the picture." Still, contrary to the common perception from the Western world, Neshat regards muslim women as extremely strong, vocal, fighters. "Because of the veil, they are considered very passive and submissive. It's the excact opposite. During the Arab revoloution, you saw a lot of beuatiful women on the street fighting."

Neshat goes on reflecting about the female body, which is "so problematic in the Islamic society. By studying female bodies in others societies, you understand the ideology, the political structure of the country. For me it has always been interesting why women have to conceal their bodies because men cannot control their sexuality. The veil creates a war between what is private and what is public. But also how expressive the body can be, when it is so controlled and limited. Just seeing the eyes or the hands under the jilbaab can be so powerful and communicating. The women behind the veil they become so erotic and seductive, that no woman in a bikini would have the same power. The more a government or a public try to control womens sexuality, the more empowered they become. And women are very conscious about the power they have over the men. It really blows me away how in certain Islamic cultures, sex is everywhere, despite the fact, that everything in this society is so controlled, that it is disappearing."

About her own works, Neshat states: "Everything begins with women obeying to the rules and the norms, only to break them, becoming very rebellious. Fighting the system or the government. Still I believe, that women can reach the people in ways, that men cannot. It's because of their emotions, nothing else."

Shirin Neshat was interviewed by Evelyn Schels.

Camera: Evelyn Schels

Edit: Evelyn Schels

Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner, Louisiana 2014

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

Supported by:

  • Fred Tomaselli

    Reflecting the Unreal

    “The hippie dream was coming to an end.” Watch American artist Fred Tomaselli – who adds elements such as pot and pills to his work – discuss the impact psychedelic drugs had on his art and how it reflects escapism while still commenting on reality.

  • Dario Fo

    I am a Born Storyteller

    Meet legendary playwright Dario Fo, who here tells the intriguing story of how he became a storyteller and how he revolutionized theatre by “destroying the fourth wall” – encouraging his audience not to be voyeurs but to participate.

  • Dario Fo

    We Need to Intervene

    Nobel Prize recipient Dario Fo is one of the most widely performed contemporary playwrights and a well-known social critic. The 89-year-old Italian here bluntly shares his opinion about today’s corrupted Italy and theatre’s crucial role in presenting the truth.

  • Thomas Zipp

    Everybody is a Freak

    “I believe that everybody is a freak in a way. That’s what we have to accept.” Come along into the dark, uncanny – and yet humorous – world of Berlin-based artist Thomas Zipp. He here talks about letting go of ‘normality’ and the inherent potential of art.

  • Leonardo Padura & Yan Lianke

    Cuba Meets China

    We attended a moving and playful literary summit between two great novelists from Cuba and China, who met for the first time on stage. Watch Yan Lianke and Leonardo Padura discuss their views and perception of each other’s socialist countries.

  • Sjón

    Let the Reader do the Work

    “When you start as a poet it makes you aware of how few words are needed to bring ideas from one mind to another.” Icelandic writer Sjón is a word-minimalist. Watch him explain why he gives his readers a minimum of words to work from.

  • Philipp Meyer

    Art is an Animal Inside Me

    Acclaimed American novelist Philipp Meyer has had many failed attempts at writing, but feels lucky that he got to discover his literary voice in private. He here shares why he writes and what keeps him going: “It’s an animal drive to write or make art.”

  • Joachim Koester

    A Dark Sea of Awareness

    Danish artist Joachim Koester discusses his acclaimed black-and-white film from 2009, which wordlessly investigates the legendary American author Carlos Castaneda’s idea that a certain set of exercises can help us “navigate the dark sea of awareness.”

  • Margaret Atwood

    The Woods Inside Me

    “I was carried into the woods in a packsack when I was six months old.” Canadian Man Booker Prize winning author Margaret Atwood here describes her special relationship to the woods, and her first overwhelming meeting with the city.

  • Sammy Baloji

    The Past in Front of Us

    Through his intriguing and poignant pictures, Congolese artist and photographer Sammy Baloji confronts the Western portrayal of his country by linking old photographs from Belgian colonial times with contemporary ones. The result is captivating.

  • COBE

    Monuments of the Future

    Dan Stubbergaard, founder of the internationally praised COBE Architects, takes us around his hometown Copenhagen in Denmark to show and discuss what motivates their exciting socially conscious and highly innovative projects.

  • Christien Meindertsma

    The Illusion of Safety

    Does increased security make you feel safer? Cool Dutch designer and artist Christien Meindertsma investigates this issue in her compelling art book ’Checked Baggage’, which comprises a week’s worth of objects confiscated in Schiphol Airport after 9/11.