Noted Filmmakers Shirin Neshat and Abbas Kiarostami Grapple with Iranian Identity in Their Still Photography
This month in London, Shirin Neshat and Abbas Kiarostami, two Persian luminaries who portray images of Iranian life, share the walls of the Repetto Gallery. The show, titled “I Have Come Along with the Wind,” balances the photojournalistic interests of the artists with their cinematic backgrounds, covering the human and natural landscapes of Iran with grace and ferocity.
Both Neshat (born in Qazvin) and Kiarostami (from Tehran) are famous across the globe for their contributions as both photographers and motion-picture artists. Neshat’s film Women Without Men (2009), a feminist allegory set in 1950s Iran, won numerous awards and accolades. The artist is particularly well known for addressing the history of gender politics in her native country. Her “Women of Allah” series (1993–97), a sampling of which is on view at Repetto, features portraits of Iranian women obscured by or set against a backdrop of Persian calligraphy. “In Islam, a woman’s body has been historically a type of battleground for various kinds of rhetoric and political ideology,” Neshat has said. “Each image is constructed to magnify a contradiction.”
In contrast, Kiarostami’s work focuses largely on the natural sublime. His photography is placid and meditative, as in the “Rain Series” (2007–8), which trains the lens on quiet landscapes behind water-streaked windshields. This work departs from his tendencies as a narrative director. In his 40-odd films, now firmly placed in the canon of Iranian New Wave cinema, he tends toward documentary-style stories revolving around intense dialogue. His still images seek a purer, stripped-down focus: as Kiarostami has said, “photography is the mother of cinema.”
Both artists, as they have garnered widespread recognition, have grappled with their portrayals of Iran’s history on the international stage. While, like many of her peers, Neshat left the country during the Iranian Revolution, Kiarostami stayed and continues to work out of Tehran. Both artists are unflaggingly dedicated to the documentary potential of photography and film. “The simplicity of the image,” Neshat has said, “is essential to give a sense of clarity within its very complex setting.”
“I Have Come Along with the Wind” is on view at Repetto Gallery, London, May 26–June 19th, 2015.