14 Nov 19 – 19 Apr 20
Shirin Neshat (1957– ) is an Iranian-born artist and filmmaker living in New York. Since the early 1990s, her work has explored the complex relationships of femininity to Islam, representations of the Muslim faith in poetic and evocative ways, and the manner in which various social, political, religious and cultural codes shape us as individuals.
This exhibition presents Neshat’s Dreamers, a trilogy of video installations which explore the world of dreams from the perspective of three different female subjects, with the artist returning to the filmic and open-ended aspects of her early practice. In many ways, the characters and their surreal narratives are projections of the artist, through which she reflects on some of her own personal nightmares and dreamscapes.
The first work in the trilogy, Illusions & Mirrors 2013, features Natalie Portman as the protagonist. She is led by a blurry figure from the dream archetypes of the seashore, with crashing waves and sand dunes, to a stately home in ruin. Roja 2016, drawn from Neshat’s own recurring dreams, memories, and desires, traces an Iranian woman’s disquieting attempts at connection with American culture while reconciling her identification with her home country. The use of the uncanny is carried over into Sarah (2016), where the environment of the forest becomes a site of haunting, of the mysterious and unknowable. Sarah is both an observer and protagonist as she explores a space inhabited by processions of religious and military figures who hover between the potential of death and the mourning of life.
Through these three video installations, Neshat recreates the unstable and mesmerising space of the dream space, inviting audiences to travel with her exploring the inner lives of the women depicted.
An essay on this body of work and Neshat’s practice, by exhibition curator Dr Simon Maidment, NGV Senior Curator, Contemporary art, is available for reading online.