Academic journal article The Hudson Review

At the Galleries

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

At the Galleries

Article excerpt

At the Galleries

AMONG THE HIGH POINTS OF THE WINTER were three seemingly diverse exhibitions: Shirin Neshat's new videos and photographs at Gladstone, William Kentridge's etchings, drawings, and works related to opera productions at Marian Goodman, and Rackstraw Downes's paintings at Betty Cuningham. I say "seemingly" diverse because despite the obvious differences between videos by an Iranian-born woman, works in a remarkable range of mediums by a South African man, and canvases by an Englishman long resident in New York, the three shows turned out to have more in common than one might suppose. Each artist, in an individual way, explored the complex relationship between perception and significance. Each made us question our assumptions about what we were confronted with and re-examine our conclusions about the meaning of what we thought we had seen.

Shirin Neshat's new films, Munis and Faezeh, are continuations of a project, begun in 2003, based on the novel Women Without Men by the Iranian writer Shahrnush Parsipur. Another section, titled Zarin, was included in Neshat's previous exhibition at Gladstone. According to the show's press material, Women Without Men is a "fantastic retelling of the 1953 coup d'état in which the CIA reinstalled the Shah of Iran." The novel is an "interwoven tale of five Iranian women as they each seek freedom from their oppressive lives. Their struggle parallels that of their nation, a country fighting for a sense of independence from foreign forces." (Parsipur was jailed for her portrayals of women.) Neshat's short videos, which are related to a larger, full-length film project, are imaginative dissections of the individual stories of Parsipur's protagonists, although how close these reimaginings are to the book's narrative, I cannot say.

Yet even without firsthand knowledge of the novel, I suspect that anyone who saw Zarin will feel that the recent films are a great improvement over Neshat's earlier foray into Parsipur's territory. Zarin is the story of a prostitute whose sanity snaps; terrified by seeing men's faces as sinister, featureless blobs, she obsessively tries to cleanse herself in the hammam. The film had some arrestingly poetic images and some frightening ones-sometimes simultaneously-but in contrast to Neshat's preceding work, the storytelling seemed illustrational, overly specific, and rather jerky, with the staccato rhythm of what are now called "graphic novels." In Munis and Faezeh, Neshat's narratives unfold in seamless, dream-like sequences, now utterly plausible, now inexplicable. Violence is a subtext-in Munis, the events of 1953, street demonstrations, reprisals, and a suicide; in Faezeh, a rape-but much of the imagery is ravishing, especially in Faezeh, in which the protagonist wanders through a grove of trees, an oasis garden, and a dimly lit house, all muted hues and filtered light, that seem to be projections of her aspirations. In Munis, the upheavals of 1953 are conjured up wiui blackand-white sequences, photographed so that they at once suggest period news footage and Neshat's own recurrent motif of crowds surging towards undefined destinations. In both films, a moody ambiguity dominates. People behave reasonably, yet something is always askew. The boundaries between reality and fantasy blur; logic bends. In Munis, we are presented with an inverted image of a man and a woman neatly lying on the pavement; their conversation seems straightforward enough, but we gradually realize that they are not alive, an insight challenged when the woman rises and moves off, on her own, liberated at last (by death?) from constraints. In Faezeh, we are uncertain much of the time whether a woman we glimpse fleeing in the distance through the light-dappled garden is a projection of the abused heroine, an alter ego, or another person; only when the "real" figure seems to watch her own violation do the fragments coalesce.

I prefer Neshat when she is most oblique, when we are allowed multiple interpretations of her allusive visions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.