At a certain moment, women in cultures that glamorize their images and suffocate their minds, that set them on pedestals while requiring their silence and modesty, cease to be either silent or modest.
One of the most evident characteristics of our contemporary society is that many battles are being fought over women's bodies. To greatly simplify the matter, for a long time, society has directed towards women a series of socio-familial expectations linked to reproduction, care, and survival of family units. The woman's body in this context was an objectification of the desires of an androcentric society, of the man, of the father, etc.
For several decades, the role of women has changed: they too have become a workforce, they have achieved economic autonomy, and they have become generators and consumers of culture. Despite this, the relationship with the body has not changed much: it must respect certain aesthetic standards, it must be covered or uncovered depending on certain beliefs or situations, there is continuous media attention towards it, etc. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu talked in this regard of "symbolic violence," which consists in the almost imperceptible imposition by the dominant (men) on the dominated (women) of their vision of the world, social roles, and mental structures.
Symbolic violence is instituted through the adherence that the dominated cannot fail to grant to the dominant (and therefore to the domination) when, to shape her thought of him and herself, or, rather, her thought of her relations with him, she has only cognitive instruments that she shares with him and which, being no more than the embodied form of the relation of domination, cause that relation to appear as natural.
(Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination)
An artist who has always placed the body particularly that of women, at the centre of her artistic practice is Shirin Neshat, who almost always refers to Iranian society (I say almost because in Land of Dreams, for example, she refers to both American and Iranian society). Here the woman's body is a real battlefield, an expression of power, protest, and rebellion, but also desire, sin, and fear. It was March 10, 1979, when Iranian women demonstrated for the first time along the streets of Tehran against the new rulers, shouting, "Freedom is neither Western nor Eastern, it is universal!" and asking for the withdrawal of the rule on compulsory veiling. For more than a year, Iranian women have been burning their veils in the streets or cutting their hair following the death of the student Mahsa Amini, who was killed by Tehran's morality police because she was wearing her veil incorrectly. Here the slogan was "Woman, life, freedom," and from Iran it invaded the whole world, which rallied around the courage and determination of these women. And certainly, the future of humanity will depend on the outcome of this fight, and the courage of those women who challenge death every day will become an example of self-determination for many women around the world.
In her earliest photographic series, Unveiling (1992), Neshat questioned the role of the veil in Islam. These photographs are sensual and provocative and explore the state of living under constant surveillance. These images embodied a sense of submission yet disobedience, and they are in line with the text of the Iranian poet Forough Farokhzad, whose work is considered to be one of the most radical expressions of female sensuality and independence. The following project, the series Women of Allah (1994–1997), is related to "martyrdom" and the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Here we have images of women who became voluntarily militant in their conviction of the Islamic Revolution and the religious fervour that flourished in Iran at the time. In these provocative and paradoxical images, the female gaze projected a sense of conviction, devotion, submission, yet cruelty and violence.
"In 1993–97, I produced my first body of work, a series of stark black-and-white photographs entitled Women of Allah, conceptual narratives on the subject of female warriors during the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. On each photograph, I inscribed calligraphic Farsi text on the female body (eyes, face, hands, feet, and chest); the text is poetry by contemporary Iranian women poets who had written on the subject of martyrdom and the role of women in the Revolution. As the artist, I took on the role of performer, posing for the photographs. These photographs became iconic portraits of wilfully armed Muslim women. Yet every image, every woman's submissive gaze, suggests a far more complex and paradoxical reality behind the surface," said Shirin Neshat.
The Fury is the last project created by Shirin Neshat about this theme: the female body as both a battleground for ideology and a source of strength. It includes a double-channel video installation and a series of black-and-white photographs with hand-drawn calligraphy of poems by Iranian poet Farrokhzad. It was shot in the spring of 2022, some months before the “Woman, Life, Freedom" Revolution, and it expresses the reality of political prisoners. The video traces the psychological and emotional journey of a young Iranian woman who, although she now lives freely in the United States, remains traumatized by her memories of captivity. Shown alongside this video is a new photographic series that focuses more directly on the female body as both an object of desire and of violence. The nude portraits of a diverse selection of women convey a sense of beauty, dignity, confidence, and pride, yet also pain, vulnerability, and trauma.
The Fury was presented for the first time last January in New York at the Gladstone Gallery. On September 1, 2023, and until February 18, 2024, we can see this powerful and touching project at Fotografiska in Stockholm.
Life could be more meaningful if we find the compassion to open our minds and our eyes to other people’s issues and see if we can expand our love and care for people beyond our immediate family," said Shirin Neshat. I think that there are no other words to express the basis of our future society.