Shirin Neshat is perhaps the most successful and well-known Iranian female artist. Although she was born in Iran and spent most of her youth there, she moved to the United States to attend art college, and it is there that she began to perfect her artistic craft. In 1979 when revolution had overtaken her homeland she was exiled and unable to return for many years. When she did finally return in 1990, the landscape and environment had changed profoundly and she found herself in a "new world" full of new complexities in addition to the old. The sense of alienation and displacement that she experienced left her bewildered and stuck in limbo between these two worlds, and it is through her art and creative outlets that she attempts to reconcile this seeming contradiction.
Neshat first achieved fame with her powerful series of photographs entitled Women of Allah which she began in 1993. In this series, she took single close-up photographs of veiled Muslim women and inked Farsi calligraphy over the top. These images refer to the social, cultural and religious codes of Islam and simultaneously subvert the familiar stereotypes and examine the idea of martyrdom. The inked calligraphy, which is in actuality contemporary poetry, occupies all of the bare skin peaking from behind the veils and appears as if it is actually tattooed across the skin. It serves both as a reminder of a long established Eastern artistic tradition and also underscores the reality of the social situation by blurring the line between the male (public) and female (personal) spaces.
Following on from this series, in the late 90s, Neshat began working with video as her primary medium. The most famous of these video-works, Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Fervor (2000), all seek to portray and reconcile the balance of relationship between men and women in her birth nation and, as she puts it, 'untangle the ideology of Islam'. Iconic images of meditation and prayer, often solely in black and white, are sumptuously and poetically produced. From these videos Neshat selects film stills and reproduces them photographically on a large scale allowing the most powerful images to be presented to a greater world-wide audience.