Eclectic artist Shirin Neshat explores visual art through the world of women in Islamic culture, revealing the contradictions and limitations, the poetry and sensuality that coexist in an ancient culture. Photos, installations and films intertwine in the works of this Iranian artist, who has produced musical projects and forayed into fashion. She recently participated in Annie Leibovitz’s 2016 Pirelli calendar, chosen as a symbol of influential and successful contemporary femininity, along with 11 other women.
Neshat continues to investigate herself and being a woman in all its meanings, from a lifestyle that perfectly balances the West and the Middle East. She spoke with il manifesto.
What do you think of the new style of the Pirelli calendar and how did you feel when Annie Leibovitz contacted you?
I did not know much about the Pirelli calendar, but I agreed [on the basis of] the reputation of the excellent photographer Annie Leibovitz. Later, when I saw the past editions of the calendar, I thought Annie was extremely courageous to change the identity of a product well known as a sexy calendar to something that is not based on physical beauty, but on the results achieved by women. Needless to say, I was flattered to be part of her selection and I think the pictures are really cool art.
What is your relationship with Italy and the art of this country?
Italy has been instrumental in the evolution of my career, which began in Lucio D’Amelio’s gallery in 1996. I also received the most important prizes in Italy: One of these was the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale (Visual Arts) in 1999 and the Silver Lion at the International Film Festival of Venice for my film Women Without Men, in 2009. In September 2015, I was in Bari for Passage Through the World, a journey through Mohsen Namjoo’s music, for which I made the scenography, together with Shoja Aza. It was very interesting and I interacted with some elderly women, mourning women, who entered in the show and my video installation. Mohsen Namjoo had this vision of music traveling from East to West across different cultures: I found the idea impressive, especially for the particular time of conflict between Christians and Muslims, between East and West that we are going through. In this project, there were endless possibilities to develop: the idea of mystic Islamic music, the circularity of the Sufi dance, the idea of mentor and his acolytes and a type of piousness expressed by Italian mourners.