Shirin Neshat was born and raised in Iran, but currently lives in the United States. Like many international artists today, she crosses boundaries of genre, race, nationality, ethnicity, and culture in both her life and her work. She draws from her divergent experiences in order to address culturally specific issues about loss, meaning, and memory that resonate universally on both emotional and intuitive levels. She often brings both social and political agendas to the fore by addressing the conflict between feminism and contemporary Islamic practice. More than statements of the artist's own beliefs, however, her works question the myths and realities of the female experience in Islamic society and address the complexities surrounding such issues as patriarchy, colonialism, and displacement.
In the past two years, Neshat's work has focused on film. Beginning with Turbulent (1998), which was included in the Walker exhibition Unfinished History (1998), the artist has collaborated on her projects with a team of professionals trained in film production. Her works are projected side-by-side or on opposing walls of enclosed gallery spaces. The physical experience of viewing these videos parallels their evocative content: the viewer stands between two projections, situated in the midst of a visual and narrative dialogue.
Soliloquy (1999) explores self-identity and the splitting of the self. The dual projection shows a veiled Neshat roaming through an anonymous modern cityscape (filmed in Albany, New York) on one screen. On the other, a similarly dressed Neshat explores a traditional Eastern cityscape (filmed in Mardin, Turkey). As the film progresses, the opposing images of the artist highlight the differences between the Western and Eastern worlds, exile and home, modern and traditional. As the film ends, she suggests a reconciliation of these dualities by mixing choral music and chanted prayer in a hybrid synthesis of the divergent worlds.
Neshat recently won the prestigious Golden Lion prize for her film work at the 1998 Venice Biennale. This acquisition continues the Walker's ongoing commitment to global contemporary art, broadening the reach of its collection to include work by artists from all parts of the world.