Shirin Neshat's acclaimed Women of Allah series executed between 1993-1997 explores the notions of identity and femininity in relation the contemporary issues of the Iranian society. Entrancing its audiences, these intimate portraits of female protagonists focus on the shielded identity of women in an Islamic culture. It is by addressing these issues that Shirin Neshat became one of the most sought-after pioneers of contemporary photography. As an unparalleled artistic force, Neshat has been able to conquer film, video and photographic art both in the East and West, in order to forge a harmonious marriage of her two cultures, ridding them of their stereotypical polarities. Proving that art is truly a universal language, Neshat combines the intricacies of Persian calligraphy with the delicacy of the female form in order to create a truly powerful series of photographs that are fascinating to every individual.
Born in Qazvin, Shirin Neshat left her native town at the age of seventeen to complete her education in America. Practicing art and receiving a BA from the University of California Berkeley in 1983, the artist was torn away from her hometown for over twenty years, unable to return until the early 1990s. Immersing herself into Iranian culture through her artwork, this photographic series tackles issues of identity and the forced submissive role of women in a war-torn society and was executed as a response to the artist's return to her homeland after many years in a way to document the changes within the society.
Women of Allah is comprised of numerous photographs of veiled women. Shown either confrontational, in profile, up close or from a distance, the many angles of Neshat's women are profound in their visual simplicity, yet they each possess a truly complex emotional sentiment. Working in harmony with these female representations, the artist seamlessly employs the use of Persian calligraphy throughout this series, producing an unusual dichotomy between image and text as the beautiful curves and marks of the script are able to add a new dimension to the photograph. By placing herself at the centre of numerous photographs from this series, her personal attachment to these photographs, not only as works of art, but also as a true reflection of emotional expression is profound. It is this unique perspective which represents the celebrated authenticity of Neshat's artistic practice.
Christie's is honoured to present an exemplary photograph from this internationally acclaimed series. A self-portrait, the present work shows the artist veiled with a white headscarf covering her hair, forehead, nose and mouth and one is confronted with the power of the artist's direct gaze. Shielding her identity yet opening up a passage to her psyche through her eyes, the strength of this image is unparalleled. In the small areas of exposed skin Neshat delicately adds an undecipherable script. The script, not meant to be read, becomes the voice of the veiled figure who in turn appears charming and exotic, simultaneously provoking the viewer with a sense of fear and threat in the light of the contemporary clichés on the Middle Eastern societies. Working in contrast to her delicate features, the boldly inscribed text adds a unique visual dimension to the scene. Furthermore, the profound effect of monochromatic colours cannot be undermined. Exacerbating the intimate nature of each photograph, free from the distractions of colour and embellishment, the strong feminist message Neshat is attempting to portray becomes ever more powerful.
As a culture deeply rooted in its past, Neshat attempts to bring to light the various conformities that were forced upon Iranian women during the Revolution. Being confidently critical of her country's past through a contemporary lens, Neshat orchestrates scenes which have the potential to evoke both confusion and deep emotion in her viewers. However, it is through this modern femininity that Neshat conducts her artistic production and therefore forges such a unique perspective.