Shirin Neshat on “From Photography to Cinema”


March 19th 2013, University of California, Berkeley

Click here for the video of the lecture.

In this entry, we review once more one of the most #PersonallyInspiring figures we have covered here at Integrating Horizons: the Iranian born artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat. In the following video of the 2013 Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, Regent’s Lecturer Series, Shirin reflects on her own “untraditional” professional journey and how it has contradicted the many structured approaches she had received at U.C. Berkeley. In her lecture, she underscored the importance of her time away from being an artist, her experiences at Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York and reflected on the nature and the development of her professional career has taken since 1993.

In her introductory autobiographical remarks, she asks why she had not flourished earlier in her professional development at U.C. Berkeley. Recognizing the intellectual and mental immaturity that prohibited her from producing “important work and contributions”, she emphasized however the antagonism and personal difficulties that affected her as Iranian born student in the United States during the late-1960s and 1970s with the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Iraq war and then the American hostages in Iran. The antagonism made it difficult for her as a young Iranian to feel part of the Berkeley community and a full participant in the educational process. Losing contact with family and the ability to travel back when one is financially and morally dependent created a “feeling of abandonment”.

Her attempt to find work in New York city as a graduate was not only intimidating and overwhelming but also had contributed to a condition that led her to temporarily give up her artistic aspirations. It was through her work at the Storefront for Art and Architecture — a non-profit organization which provided a “laboratory” of artists, culture critics, scientists and other imaginative and intellectually gifted for innovative cooperation — that had provided her with the type of education she needed. Shirin argued that the traditional education found in most art schools mistakenly attempts to “detect” the talent in each person and develop each one into a style and if perfected to an extent that they are ready to “enter the galleries and museums” and being their professional careers. The Storefront for Art and Architecture had given her an entirely different approach.

“I don’t believe that young people are born with gifts or talents, I don’t believe it is something you have in your intuition that a teacher can simply bring it out of you. It is the opposite, art is seated in life and unless you go after it, it is partially related to knowledge and intellectual information.”

 It was at the Storefront that she was able to develop her own identity needed for research, the process of discovery, creativity and the ability to find meaning in art. It as however not until her trip back to Iran a decade later in 1990 that she would find her subject matter and focus. It was in Iran that she was unable to find an approach or a form of expressing what she was experiencing when she developed her own methodology and began pursuing her own professional work. Shirin argued that where the art school had taught her faithfulness to mediums of expression and their perfection, her own work was however pulling her in unfaithful ways to any them.

Her own work became a reflection of her own personality, embodying her familiarity and desire for the “transitional” and “nomadic” behavior.

“In terms of my lifestyle, it has been a very nomadic lifestyle. I have been a traveler and nomad as long as I have known myself. I have never been able to stay at the same place for very long. I have never even been any place for very long where everybody looks like me and speaks the same language. Reinventing myself, new beginnings, adapting to new environments, new cultures, new languages, new smells, has been a way of life. In fact, I enjoy the idea of being a student in new beginnings because somehow it makes me feel like I am growing, I’m relevant, and I’m on the edge and most of all that I am struggling. […] Never be afraid of taking risk and failing.” 

Her work as an artist has since ranged from photography to video to cinema and some performance art. Each form has however delved into the different aspects of the personal, the poetic and the political as a way to delve deep into her own “personal and social anxieties”.

The remainder of the lecture consists of a brief overview of her work from 1993 to expected release works in 2015. Below is a list of works covered along with keywords:

“The Women of Allah”

keywords: veil, condition of women, boundary, stylized, posed,


keywords: Iranian, women, music, singing, movie, moving picture


keywords: choreography, masculine, feminine, relation to nature, relation to culture, sociological, allegorical fictions, political, theatrical,


keywords: Sexuality, temptation, taboo, Islam, Iran, flirting, Morocco


keywords: Philip Glass, minimalist, funeral, desert, mortality, sorrow, loss, middle east, melancolic,

“Tree of Ṭūbā

keywords: feminine symbol, freedom, refuge, mexico, Ṭūbā


keywords: autobiographical, east, west, modernity, traditional, Turkey, United States,

“Women without men”

keywords: Conceptual film, mystical, real, orchard, ephemeral, history, universality, cinematic narrative, Venice Film Festival, Best Director,

“Book of Kings”

keywords: calligraphy, human portrait, simplicity of the body, Arab Spring, courage, patriotism, history, tragedy, sense of loss,

Voices of Egypt

Keywords: Umm Kulthum

** To learn more about Shirin Neshat, please also consider the following webpage on Artsy here.

One Comment on “Shirin Neshat on “From Photography to Cinema”

  1. Pingback: Shirin Neshat on “From Photography to Cinema” | © Integrating Horizons

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