Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking

Shirin Neshat. Speechless. 1996

(b. 1957 in Qazvin, Iran, lives and works in New York)
(one of two works shown)
RC print and ink, 66 x 52 1/2" (167.6 x 133.4 cm). Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York. © Shirin Neshat. Photograph: Larry Barns. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York Audio courtesy of Acoustiguide

SHIRIN NESHAT: I am Shirin Neshat. I'm born in Iran, and have been living in the United States since 1974.

These two photographs are from a body of work called Women of Allah, a photographic series that I made from 1993 until 1997. And they represent the beginning of my career as an artist.

 Neshat left Iran for America when she was still a teenager. On her first visit back, in 1990, she encountered a country transformed by a Revolution that had replaced a secular regime with an Islamic republic. The Women of Allah series embodies her reactions to this transformation.

 Speechless is an image of a woman's face, with a weapon by her ear, oddly resembling a piece of jewelry. Her face is inscribed by poetry. In my view, this image at first really communicates this extreme sense of submission of this woman to religion. Maybe this person is willingly doing what she is doing, or in fact maybe she's a victim. But somehow her faith, her religion, her weapon, empowers her in a way that nothing else does. And I think there is something incredibly sexual and erotic about this woman gaze, which is very ambiguous.

I chose the title Speechless for this image, because it is as if she is very silent, and that perhaps she's forbidden to say what she really wants to say, but she has so much to say. And I felt the internal turmoil of this woman caught in between the emotions behind her, yet the need in believing in something is taking her somewhere else. And I find that ambiguity and that sense of paradox extremely powerful. So the words are written on her face as if these are the words that are just about to come out. But she's unable to open her mouth.

Neshat’s Persian inscriptions are primarily from poems by modern Iranian women. The words on this woman’s face come from a poem celebrating martyrdom, Tahereh Saffarzadeh’s "Allegiance with Wakefulness.” It reflects the author’s fierce commitment to faith and the Revolution.

SHIRIN NESHAT: The poet is speaking to her brothers, and she is begging them to allow her to participate in the process of the Revolution. It is a woman crying out for her desire to be socially active, and not to be left at home.

3 / 10