Shirin Neshat (Persian: شیرین نشاط; born March 26, 1957) is an Iranian visual artist who lives in New York City, known primarily for her work in film, video and photography. Her artwork centers on the contrasts between Islam and the West, femininity and masculinity, public life and private life, antiquity and modernity, and bridging the spaces between these subjects. Neshat has been recognized countless times for her work, from winning the International Award of the XLVIII Venice Biennale in 1999, to winning the Silver Lion for best director at the 66th Venice Film Festival in 2009, to being named Artist of the Decade by Huffington Post critic G. Roger Denson.
Neshat is the fourth of five children of wealthy parents, brought up in the religious town of Qazvin in north-western Iran under a "very warm, supportive Muslim family environment", where she learned traditional religious values through her maternal grandparents. Neshat's father was a physician and her mother a homemaker. Neshat said that her father "fantasized about the west, romanticized the west, and slowly rejected all of his own values; both my parents did. What happened, I think, was that their identity slowly dissolved, they exchanged it for comfort. It served their class”. As a part of Neshat’s "Westernization2 she was enrolled in a Catholic boarding school in Tehran. Through her father’s acceptance of Western ideologies came an acceptance of a form of western feminism. Neshat’s father encouraged each of his daughters to "be an individual, to take risks, to learn, to see the world", and he sent his daughters as well as his sons to college to receive their higher education.
After graduating school, she moved to New York and married a Korean curator, Kyong Park, who was the director and founder of Storefront for Art and Architecture, a non-profit organization. Neshat helped Park run the Storefront, in the process exploring the ideologies and concepts that would later become integral to her artwork.
During this time, she did not make any serious attempts at creating art, and the few attempts were subsequently destroyed. In 1990, she returned to Iran. "It was probably one of the most shocking experiences that I have ever had. The difference between what I had remembered from the Iranian culture and what I was witnessing was enormous. The change was both frightening and exciting; I had never been in a country that was so ideologically based. Most noticeable, of course, was the change in people's physical appearance and public behavior."
Neshat’s earliest works were photographs, such as the Unveiling (1993) and Women of Allah (1993–97) series, which explore notions of femininity in relation to Islamic fundamentalism and militancy in her home country. As a way of coping with the discrepancy between the culture that she was experiencing and that of the pre-revolution Iran in which she was raised, she began her first mature body of work, the Women of Allah series, portraits of women entirely overlaid by Persian calligraphy.
Her work refers to the social, cultural and religious codes of Muslim societies and the complexity of certain oppositions, such as man and woman. Neshat often emphasizes this theme showing two or more coordinated films concurrently, creating stark visual contrasts through motifs such as light and dark, black and white, male and female. Neshat has also made more traditional narrative short films, such as Zarin.
The work of Neshat addresses the social, political and psychological dimensions of women's experience in contemporary Islamic societies. Although Neshat actively resists stereotypical representations of Islam, her artistic objectives are not explicitly polemical. Rather, her work recognizes the complex intellectual and religious forces shaping the identity of Muslim women throughout the world. Using Persian poetry and calligraphy she examined concepts such as martyrdom, the space of exile, the issues of identity and femininity.
In 2001–02, Neshat collaborated with singer Sussan Deyhim and created Logic of the Birds, which was produced by curator and art historian RoseLee Goldberg. The full length multimedia production premiered at the Lincoln Center Summer Festival in 2002 and toured to the Walker Art Institute in Minneapolis and to Artangel in London. In this collaboration, as well as her other projects that incorporate music, Neshat uses sound to help create an emotionally evocative and beautiful piece that will resonate with viewers of both Eastern and Western cultures. In an interview with Bomb magazine in 2000, Neshat revealed: "Music becomes the soul, the personal, the intuitive, and neutralizes the sociopolitical aspects of the work. This combination of image and music is meant to create an experience that moves the audience." 
When Neshat first came to use film, she was influenced by the work of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. She directed several videos, among them Anchorage (1996) and, projected on two opposing walls: Shadow under the Web (1997), Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Soliloquy (1999). Neshat's recognition became more international in 1999, when she won the International Award of the XLVIII Venice Biennale with Turbulent and Rapture, a project involving almost 250 extras and produced by the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont which met with critical and public success after its worldwide avant-première at the Art Institute of Chicago in May 1999. With Rapture, Neshat tried for the first time to make pure photography with the intent of creating an aesthetic, poetic, and emotional shock. Games of Desire, a video and still-photography piece, was displayed between September 3 and October 3 at the Gladstone Gallery in Brussels before moving in November to the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris. The film, which is based in Laos, centers on a small group of elderly people who sing folk songs with sexual lyrics - a practice which had been nearing obsolescence.
In 2009 she won the Silver Lion for best director at the 66th Venice Film Festival for her directorial debut Women Without Men, based on Shahrnush Parsipur's novel of the same name. She said about the movie: "This has been a labour of love for six years.(...) This film speaks to the world and to my country." The film examines the 1953 British-American backed coup, which supplanted Iran's democratically elected government with a monarchy.
Exhibitions and film festivals
Since her first solo exhibition, at Franklin Furnace in New York in 1993, Neshat has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2002); Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Dallas Museum of Art (2000); Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Serpentine Gallery, London; Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León; and the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2005). In 2008, her solo exhibition “Women Without Men” opened at the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark, and traveled to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, and to the Kulturhuset, Stockholm. She was included in Prospect.1, the 2008 New Orleans Biennial, documenta XI, the 2000 Whitney Biennial, and the 1999 Venice Biennale. In 2012 Shirin Neshat had a Solo Exhibition in Singapore, Game of Desire at Art Plural Gallery. A major retrospective of Neshat’s work, organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, was scheduled to open in 2013.
Since 2000 Neshat has also participated in film festivals, including the Telluride Film Festival (2000), Chicago International Film Festival (2001), San Francisco International Film Festival (2001), Locarno International Film Festival (2002), Tribeca Film Festival (2003), Sundance Film Festival (2003), and Cannes Film Festival (2008).
Neshat was artist in residence at the Wexner Center for the Arts (2000) and at MASS MoCA (2001). In 2004 she was awarded an honorary professorship at the Universität der Künste, Berlin. In 2006 she was awarded The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the richest prizes in the arts, given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”
In 2010 Neshat was named Artist of the Decade by Huffington Post critic G. Roger Denson, for "the degree to which world events have more than met the artist in making her art chronically relevant to an increasingly global culture," for reflecting "the ideological war being waged between Islam and the secular world over matters of gender, religion, and democracy," and because "the impact of her work far transcends the realms of art in reflecting the most vital and far-reaching struggle to assert human rights."
- Turbulent, 1998. Two channel video/audio installation.
- Rapture, 1999. Two channel video/audio installation.
- Soliloquy, 1999. Color video/audio installation with artist as the protagonist.
- Fervor, 2000. Two channel video/audio installation.
- Passage, 2001. Single channel video/audio installation.
- Logic of the Birds, 2002. Multi-media performance.
- Tooba, 2002. Two channel video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
- Mahdokht, 2004. Three channel video/audio installation.
- Zarin, 2005. Single channel video/audio installation.
- Munis, 2008. Color video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
- Faezeh, 2008. Color video/audio installation based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
- Possession, 2009. Black & white video/audio installation.
- Women Without Men, 2009. Feature film based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.
- Illusions & Mirrors, 2013. Film commissioned by Dior and featuring Natalie Portman.
- First International Prize at the Venice Biennale (1999)
- Grand Prix at the Kwangju Biennale (2000)
- Visual Art Award from the Edinburgh International Film Festival (2000)
- Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in New York (2002)
- ZeroOne Award from the Universität der Künste Berlin (2003)
- Hiroshima Freedom Prize from the Hiroshima City Museum of Art (2005)
- Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in New York (2006)
Film and video
- Expressing the inexpressible [videorecording DVD]: Shirin Neshat. 2004, 42 minutes, Color. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities & Sciences. Originally produced by Westdeutscher Rundfunk in 2000.