Upstairs at the Goodman Gallery in London hang large-scale black-and-white photographs of women. Look closer at their naked bodies, parts of which are symbolically covered, and these women of various ages and ethnicities bear signs of abuse and mutilation. Meanwhile, downstairs in the gallery, the video installation tells the stylised, fictional story of a woman struggling with her memories of imprisonment and rape.
‘The Fury’ is the latest body of work by the New York-based Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat, who, since the 1990s, has captivated viewers — and in some instances caused controversy — through an art that investigates gender and society, time and memory, the individual and the collective, and the complexities and contradictions of Islam, told through a personal and diasporic lens.
Neshat’s mesmerising, cinematic, large-scale black-and-white photography is overlaid with handwritten Farsi calligraphy — poetry, prose — inviting the viewer to read more than the surface image. Likewise, with her feature films and film installations, she has created her own unique moving image language.
‘The Fury’ was shot in June 2022 near Neshat’s Brooklyn studio. In the film, the female protagonist is played by Iranian-American actor Sheila Vand, while the remaining cast are Neshat’s co-students from her African dance class. In the film, dance expresses liberation — it is fundamental to the storytelling. Choreographed by Neshat’s teacher, the climax scene is a stirring ritual of movement expressing protest and rage, performed to the haunting vocals of Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, singing “Soltane Ghalbha” (meaning king of hearts, a heartfelt Iranian love song from 1968), the melody slowed down, and the lyrics retold in Arabic.
I spoke with Shirin Neshat to see what she hopes the viewer will take from this body of work.