How Shirin Neshat Got Her Start as an Artist
How did you become interested in art? Were there any artworks or artists that were particularly influential?
Tell me about your first attempts to make art.
“I destroyed evidence of all this work. Honestly, I had to be one of the weakest artists at the school.”
What encouraged you to get back into art?
“Playing a role, being a performer, I was the master of my own ceremony. I was in control. I felt like, ‘this is me.’”
Were there early instructors or mentors that really encouraged you?
How did Iranian culture or cultural expectations affect your desire to be an artist?
What were the biggest obstacles to becoming an artist?
“Eventually, I made a little money from my artwork, and I couldn’t believe that I had a little bit of luxury. Struggling was an important experience for me.”
What would you consider your breakthrough work?
How did you deal with any rejections you faced early on?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Header image, from left to right: Shirin Neshat with Thelma Golden at the opening of Neshat’s exhibition “Turbulent” at the Whitney Museum in 1998 (upper); Shirin Neshat at University of California, Berkeley circa 1979–80 (lower); Shirin Neshat at University of California, Berkeley circa 1979–80 (center); Shirin Neshat, “Untitled,” from Roja series, 2016. © Shirin Neshat (upper); Shirin Neshat with film extras for Rapture circa 2000 (lower); Press release from Franklin Furnace for Shirin Neshat’s “Unveiling,” in New York City,1993 (background). All images courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Frank Stella was teaching at UC Berkeley when Neshat was there. He was not. The text has been updated to reflect this change.