curated by Rosa Martinez
Shirin Neshat was born in Qazvin (Iran) in 1957 and moved to the United States in 1974 to continue her art studies. The outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 meant she was unable to return to her homeland until 1990, after the death of Khomeini. Her shock at the changes the population had undergone at the hands of the theocratic regime, led her to produce the compelling photographic series Women of Allah. In 1996 she made her first film, Anchorage, and, since then, has produced a number of fascinating video installations. The black and white images, the use of screens one placed in front of the other and music as an emotive element which acts as a common thread in her filmed narratives, have enabled her to deal with the way in which patriarchal cultures segregate women and construct the dualisms which oppose feminine to masculine, private to public, nature to culture and emotion to thought. Unlike her paradigmatic dual-screen video installations, such as Turbulent (1998) and Rapture (1999), the film Passage (2000) is in colour and uses only one screen, in a new synthesis of her formal and existential concerns.
The title itself, Passage, alludes to migration, to rites of passage and is, in fact, a cathartic reflection on death. The film begins with images of a group of men dressed in black, holding aloft a corpse wrapped in a white shroud. Their journey takes them from the sea to an area in the desert where a group of women, kneeling in a circle, are digging a hole in the earth with their hands. The rhythmic head bobbing of the women, the anguished sound of their breathing and their repeated chanting are akin to a summoning of pain. Phillip Glass's score emphasizes a narrative which visually combines direct tracking shots towards the group of women with sweeping shots which follow the group of men, until a frame shows in detail the hands of a young girl constructing a small circle of stones. The shot showing the circle of women digging at the earth fades into a shot of the circle of stones constructed by the young girl, as if the darkness of death were always succeeded by play and the building of a new life.
The group of men, women and the girl only come together in the final image of the film. They form a mystic triangle that sketches out a strange geometry of belonging and distance. The trail of fire which defines the immense angle in which all the characters are included, is a symbol of destruction and purification, of disappearance and rebirth. It is also the symbol of the young girl's journey to adulthood, from the awareness, somewhere between surprise and indifference, of the existence of death. Passage is, without a doubt, one of Shirin Neshat's masterpieces and an extraordinary testimony to the lines which separate and unite men and women, parents and children, all of whom are marked by a strange and universal destiny.
Text by Rosa Martínez
"Mithology, meanwhile continued to serve as a potent device for both actively reclaiming and rewriting women's histories and for imaging the present and the future"
by Frank Lloyd, in "Feminist Visual Culture"(1)
Nancy Spero was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1926 and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago em 1949. The values and mores that shaped her life were typically American and form the behavioral paradigm that governs Western culture. She has faced up to these realities and the events that have shaped her personal life and fifty-year career, by maintaining a critical voice and awakening the public's awareness with art that sparks reflection.
Nancy Spero's great gift is having realized that painting, as a human creation, is part and parcel of our complex world made up of political and economic flux, values, and social forces that mold society at every turn. The Feminist movement and the anti-war demonstrations of the 60s and 70s had a discernable impact on her development as an artist both in terms of the topics she broaches and the techniques she uses.
The Filomena Soares Gallery is proud to display a number of works that convey the artist's view on the status of women. Working on paper, the artist repeats a number of female characters, singly or in groups, over a background of either soft or saturated colors. Her depiction of contemporary, classical and Egyptian archetypes as well as Western and Oriental divinities questions the idea of male dominance in all its aspects, and in art and life from the past to the present. They also convey the constant presence of women throughout history. Depictions of ancient goddesses alongside Olympic athletes and tortured women portray both the stature and status of women throughout time.
Through the roles that women have played, the artist constructs a narrative line that is not clearly linear, and thus graces her work with a feeling of the here and now.
As a woman who actively participated in the political events of her day and was able to interpret the different artistic movements of her era, Nancy Spero stands not only as an artist of the past and present, but of the future.
"What I really wanted was to have woman as the universal symbol rather then the male, or "phallus". So the rites of passage for the women - birth, puberty, childbirth, death - would become the universal instead of, say; the male connotation. But I'm not suggesting that this work is only for women - I'm saying, "you guys, you've got to look at this too". But I'm also using imagery that, I hope, resists the objectifying male gaze."
(1)In Feminist Visual Culture, edited by Fiona Carson and Claire Pajaczkowska, Edinburgh University Press, 2000
(2)Spero, Nancy; "Extracts from an interview by Jon Bird, New York, 1986"; in Nancy Spero; catalogue; Ulmer Museum 5 Abril bis 31 Mai 1992,