Shirin Neshat, a prominent Iranian artist, knows how to create a gripping image, and my critique of her work has nothing to do with the visual quality of her art. Rather, I have an issue with the implications of her work. It seems like her artistic career is built around the statement “Iranian women are miserable.” And her message isn’t a nuanced one.
She has two bodies of work that I specifically take issue with. First, her photography collection titled Women of Allah. Second, her movie rendition of Women Without Men.
1) Ironically, Women of Allah initially drew me to Shirin Neshat’s work. The images are really quite beautiful, until you begin to consider each one individually. Chador clad women, calligraphy, rifles. And they’re beautiful images, but why the guns? Why are these women the women of Allah? The guns are a recurring prop in the series—why?
I can’t appreciate a work that links Islam and violence like that. A work that implies that the women of Allah are the ones who wear black and bear arms. It’s fine to want some dialogue on gender/fundamentalism/religion, etc, but at least be nuanced in your approach.
2) As for Women Without Men, she completely ruined the Shahrnush Parsipur’s book. I know all movies based on books depart from the original plot, but Shirin Neshat abused her creative license in this film. She just came up with something totally different. I’m honestly surprised that Parsipur even agreed to play a small role in Neshat’s film.
Plus, the same problematic approach to Islam crops up in the movie. Like her photography, though, the movie is visually quite stunning.
If you’ve seen Neshat’s Women Without Men, read Parsipur’s book. If you haven’t seen it, read Parsipur’s book. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just read the book. It’s called…wait for it…Women Without Men. And it’s good. You’ll finish it in a sitting.