Presented by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Sydney Festival this powerful video installation by New York-based Iranian artist Shirin Neshat is a wonderful opportunity to experience the eloquent work of one of the world's most respected contemporary artists.
Romantic, poetic, mythic... The work of Shirin Neshat is among the most lyrical of contemporary Islamic art. Shirin Neshat grew up in the ancient city of Qazvin, in northwest Tehran. When she travelled to America in 1974 to study art, she had no idea that the Shah would soon be deposed and that Iran would undergo a cultural revolution under the fundamentalist Islamic rule of Ruhollah Khomeini and the Ayatollahs. In 1990, after the Ayatollah Khomeini's death, Neshat was able to make her first journey home. In returning she experienced the profound difference between modern Iran and the Iran of her childhood - a culture still connected with Persia. The Eastern-Islamic values of her childhood were now in utter contradiction with current Iranian society.
The changes were particularly evident in the position of women. As Neshat explains: "I see my work as a visual discourse on the subject of feminism and contemporary Islam - a discourse that puts certain myths and realities to the test, claiming that they are far more complex than most of us have imagined ..."
Shirin Neshat's two-screen video installation, Tooba, 2002, was inspired by Shahrnoush Parsipour's contemporary novel Women without men. 'Tooba' is the name of a sacred tree mentioned in the Koran, which can offer shelter and blessings to those in need.
Rendered entirely in contrasting tones of greenish sepia, Neshat's video installation Tooba, is a mystical fable setting women and men in opposition. She places the tree in an enclosed garden as a sign of 'a spiritual longing for paradise and a quest for political power'. Conceived in the form of a poetic allegory, the work reveals that even in paradise there are tensions and conflicts. The invading men and women seek refuge in this paradise garden, just as the woman appears to disappear inside the Tooba tree. The artist notes: "The idea is that they are transcending everyday life and moving into something greater."
This dramatic installation explores issues such as the immigrant experience, the position of women in contemporary society and the complexities of Islam, and is accompanied by a selection of compelling photographs from other series by this politically and socially aware artist.
Shirin Neshat TOOBA