Shirin Neshat Looks Home in New Venetian Exhibit

The works of the most famous Iranian video artist and photographer, always address themes of social and religious motivations that forge the identity of Muslim women. Shirin Neshat, in 1999 won the Golden Lion at the 48th Venice Art Biennale for the video-installations Turbulent and Rapture;  and in 2009 made her filmmaking debut with Women without Men (Zanan bedoone mardan), which won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. So far, her profoundly perturbing images have been exhibited at the Tate Gallery in London, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Serpentine Gallery in London, the Kunsthalle in Vienna and the Contemporary Art Museum in Hiroshima.

Now the Serenissima welcomes Shirin Neshat back with the exhibition The Home of My Eyes at the Museo Correr. The show features recent works by Iranian artist and filmmaker, that represent a shift in Neshat’s practice. This time she no longer focuses solely on her own Iranian society, but ponders upon the problematics of other cultures, by portraying the diverse people of Azerbaijan. The series of 55 photographic portraits, inscribed with ink, epitomize what the artist defines as “a portrait of a country that for so long has been a crossroads of many different ethnicities, religions, and languages.” Azerbaijan resonates with Shirin Neshat, since it has many common traits with her native country.

The protagonists of the close-ups range in age and ethnicity, but they are all positioned against a dark background and wear similar clothing. This tapestry of human faces captures hand gestures that reference Christian religious paintings, most notably those of El Greco. Every piece of this artistic puzzle composes a grand masterpiece that explores the subjects’ individual voices, from the blonde little girl with European features, to the octogenarian of Asian look.

Before the photographs − that measure 152cm by 205cm − came into being, Neshat spoke with all the people she captured on camera, about their perspectives on cultural identity and the concept of home. She then composed texts, which are calligraphically inscribed across the portraits, from both the sitters’ responses to the notion of homeland, and from poems by Nizami Ganjavi, a 12th century Iranian poet who lived in what is present-day Azerbaijan.

The video-artist also presented an audiovisual narrative to complete her sociological oeuvre, that reflects on her own experience of living in the foreign culture of the United States. Shirin Neshat, was born in the provincial capital of Qazvin but has been living in New York since 1983, after she graduated from Berkley. The video Roja is based on traces of an Iranian woman’s nostalgia for her homeland, as the protagonist is simultaneously pulled towards and pushed away from both her original and adopted homes. Shirin Nest used surrealist lens and a nonlinear narrative, to fully express a stream of consciousness that would convey feelings of displacement. The blurred lines between reality and fiction, grasp the tensions between past and present, fully in line with the venue that hosted her exhibition The Home of My Eyes.

The Venetian Museum that is showing Neshat’s latest work, originated with the collection that Teodoro Correr bequeathed to the city in 1830 and today charters the history of Venice from the 13th to the 16th century through its collection of paintings, prints, coins, weapons and military regalia. Any object that survived the course of time can be found, from Medieval to Renaissance, up to the Risorgimento (the Italian Resurgence that culminated in the Unification of Italy in 1861). Visitors are always inspired while walking through the Napoleonic Wing (that houses the rooms of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, the famous Sissi) that displays works by the great sculptor Antonio Canova; as well as exploring the Wunderkammer (a sort of ‘cabinet of curiosities’ of the Venice lagoon, that includes more than 300 works from the collections of the city museums of Venice). These  are just a few of the treasures that will overwhelm those who visit the museum overlooking Saint Mark’s Square.  

The Museo Correr often incorporates contemporary temporary exhibits, to initiate a dialogue between yesterday and today, with an exhaustive journey through Italian history. This time an incredibly inspiring artist from third millennium Persia got the chance to interact with Antonello da Messina, Giovanni Bellini, Alvise Vivarini, Lorenzo Lotto and Vittore Carpaccio.