Shirin Neshat just might be the sweetest thing ever.
Cover image: Youssef Nabil - Shirin Neshat, New York, 2004. Hand-coloured gelatin silver print.
Courtesy the artist and Nathalie Obadia Gallery, Paris/Brussels.
When was my first Shirin Neshat ‘moment’? I don’t know, exactly. I’d probably been captivated, behind some screen or other, by a photograph from the Women of Allah series that first catapulted her into art world stardom; or, maybe – as a clueless, skinny little thing – it was when I found myself wondering what on earth Turbulent was all about. The first one I vividly remember, though, was when I ended up sitting behind her during the screening of her film Women Without Men in London. She already had me breaking out in one of those cold sweats James Brown had so often screeched about during the opening scene, in which all I could hear was the azan, the call to prayer. Walking out of the cinema back to the cold, black riverside, I half-interestedly listened to the banter amongst a jumble of bodies swathed in scarves and overcoats. I too thought the story was mahhhvelous, but wasn’t thinking about either the plot or Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel, of which Shirin’s eponymous film was an interpretation. I could have – had I had the pluck – turned around to face the throng at that moment, grabbed the ends of someone’s cream-coloured pashmina, and shouted, But those colours! And those sounds! Oh, you people! Oh well. Perhaps some other time.
I didn’t know what to expect before I rang up Shirin in New York City. In her interviews, I couldn’t help but notice a sense of weightiness and gravitas. Even the way she casually whisked by me in Istanbul a couple of years ago (coincidentally, just as a Syrian friend was discussing her art at a Nişantaşi café) had something spectral about it. Maybe it’s the black; I don’t know. In any case, I was in for a pleasant surprise.
I was almost taken aback by her friendliness. ‘Hello Joobin!’ she said, as if we’d known each other for ages; and, she surprised me again when the interview about her and her work began with one about me. She started our conversation by asking about my family’s move from Iran to Canada and my uncommon Persian name. I told her how my father had initially opted for the ‘purer’ pronunciation of my first name – Joopin – and that my mother was against it because it sounded too ‘feminine’. Between you and me, Baba joon was right; I mean, you might as well go the whole nine yards, right? But I’m going off on a tangent again, as I usually do.
For our third episode, I talked to Shirin about her upcoming solo exhibition in Johannesburg, her much-anticipated film about the Egyptian icon Om Kolthoum, and her … style ‘gurus’. Amongst, of course, other things.
‘Dreamers’, Shirin Neshat’s first solo exhibition in Johannesburg, runs between August 20 and September 14, 2016 at Goodman Gallery.