Professor Shirin Neshat on “Transitional Behavior: Images and History”
Institute for Strategic Dialogue, University of Oxford
At the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in 2012, Iranian artist and filmmaker Professor Shirin Neshat presented a brief autobiographical lecture re-titled “Transitional Behavior: Images and History” as visiting Oxford University Professor in Contemporary Art. In reflecting about the process and evolution of her own work in photography to video, cinema and experimentations with theatre and live performance including Ballet, Professor Neshat argued that as an artist the transitional character of her work has always closely mirrored her own personality — the need to always find “new beginnings”, to “rebel against everything [she] had constructed in her life”, every “signature work” and the importance of “struggle” to keep herself not only on “her toes” but also “relevant”, “alive” and “growing”. In this reflection, she says:
“I cannot even remember the last place that I looked like everyone else, that I spoke the same language as everyone else. I have always been unlike everyone else, and I have learned to be unfaithful to any culture, to any language, to any flavor of food, any music, and anything. I just keep moving”.
The sense of the personal, the facing of “profound existential questions” and personal dilemmas as a human being were roots for her work and imagination — the latter in particular the place where she could call “home”, indeed a inner space to “indulge in a dialogue between the inner/outer world”; an outer world that was not only in profound “crisis” but that was also “profoundly affecting” in turn the inner and personal.
As Professor Neshat notes, it is “almost impossible” depending on your relative cultural and inherent identity not to have your “psyche” and your work “intersect” with politics, in particular when the latter as an Iranian is defined as censorship, oppression, arrests and torture. As a “traveler” and “nomad”, one cannot but feel once more an additional political conflict as an “outsider” and a “Muslim”.
The remainder of the lecture featured Professor Neshat’s brief reflections on the connection between the personal as well as the political with her embrace of the poetic and the paradoxical in Iranian culture and her own life. This followed with brief overview of her artistic pieces Turbulent, Women of Allah, Rapture, Soliloquy, the Book of Kings, and Illusion and Mirrors.
** To learn more about Shirin Neshat, please also consider the following webpage on Artsy here.