Shirin Neshat brings her “Land of Desires” to New York
“I realized that I had lived longer in this country than in my own country,” says Shirin Neshat of Zoom. It’s the morning after her solo show “Land of Dreams” opened at the Gladstone Gallery in New York, and there’s already more to celebrate: in less than an hour, Joe Biden would become the 46th President of the United States. Like many others, Neshat is hopeful.
The artist’s latest work, conceived and produced during Trump’s presidency, reflects a similar optimism, even if it reflects a divided American culture. The exhibition comprises two films, shown in a two-channel installation in the gallery and shown online, as well as over 100 portraits. “My lens always looked back to Iran, where I was born. And now I’ve given myself a license to criticize this country in a way, ”says the artist, who left Iran as a teenager and lives in New York.
More from WWD
“For so long, people like me – immigrant artists – have shied away from giving our view of this country and everything that has gone wrong,” she adds, listing just a few of the problems that have accumulated over the past few years : the rise of white supremacy, Muslim prohibition, the immigration crisis. Neshat emphasizes more than ever the importance of artists like themselves – an immigrant, a woman, a Muslim – who bring their voices to the collective narrative of America, the land of dreams.
The artist turned to the American Southwest, a long-standing symbol of possibility that also reflects aspects of Iran. The exhibition illuminates the juxtapositions – between Iran and America; Fiction and documentation; Dreams and nightmares – and shows that the distinctions are often rather blurry. “Our fears and fears – especially in the face of the pandemic – are very similar,” she says. “And this gap that we have, especially between Iran and the US, this antagonism, is absurd because what Americans worry about is not that different.”
The story goes on
Neshat and her partner Shoja Azari (who also acted as cameraman) first made their way through America to look for a desert landscape that felt similar to Iran. They eventually settled in New Mexico to enjoy the beauty of the state’s scenery and harsh socio-economic conditions for many residents.
“There’s this ambiguity – is this landscape Iran or the US?” She says. “I was also very interested in New Mexico being one of the poorest states in the United States. one of the most neglected states, ”she adds. “As a foreigner, as an immigrant, it was very interesting to work with these other immigrants and other people who felt this way displaced or whose status was under attack in America.”
Neshat hoped to involve the state’s indigenous community in the project. When the New Mexico Film Commission told them they were unlikely to get permission, she went and introduced herself and her vision for the work in person. The artist became friends with a member of the Navajo Nation, which resulted in an invitation to his home and an introduction to other members.
The idea of personal connections that bridge dividing lines between faceless organizations was at the center of her video work.
In the title video, “Land of Dreams,” actress Sheila Vand plays – as a kind of channel for Neshat himself – an Iranian art student whose job it is to ask residents of New Mexico about their latest dreams. While the video is fictional, many of the people featured were local non-actors who allowed the production into their homes.
In a parallel video, “The Colony”, the same character is exposed as an Iranian spy working in an authoritarian bunker in the mountains to archive and analyze the same dreams. The result is an absurd political satire aimed at commenting on how citizens fall victim to people in power, governments and systems.
“When she collected people’s dreams and nightmares – about displacement or abandonment or fear of violence, nuclear holocaust or religion – she began [realize] Some of these people’s dreams and nightmares are precisely their own fears as displaced persons, ”says Neshat of her central character, Simin. “She was just an agent. And as an agent, she did what was forbidden, which identified with her subjects. “
Last fall, Neshat returned to New Mexico to direct a scripted feature film based on these two videos starring Vand, as well as Matt Dillon, Isabella Rossellini and Anna Gunn.
The exhibition at Gladstone is accompanied by over 100 portraits decorated with Farsi script and illustrations. Like the character in her films, Neshat went door to door to take pictures of people and ask them about their dreams. She set up studios in pizzerias and hotels and paid everyone who had her portrait done. She also gave each person a replica of their final portrait.
The result is a portfolio that reflects the racial and economic diversity of New Mexico. “And so we had this incredibly meaningful relationship with the locals, whether they were functional or dysfunctional, Native or Hispanic or Black or White,” she says. “To me, the photos are what America looks like today.”
More from the eye:
‘Broken Nature’ highlights restorative design and sustainability in MoMA
In John Edmonds’ solo exhibition, ‘A Sidelong Glance’ at the Brooklyn Museum
First look at Sanford Biggers quilts at the Bronx Museum
Best of WWD
Sign up for the WWD newsletter. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the latest news.