Shirin Neshat

1 Story

Shirin Neshat

A purpose in artistic practice


In this rare collaboration with NeueJournal, Brigitte creates a series of portraits investigating the most nuanced and directional voices in contemporary art, film, music, and science. An ongoing personal series captured in her Lower East Side daylight studio, these images are underscored by a quiet intimacy unique to the space itself.


For artists, the process is just as important as anything else. All artists make great work, good work, and mediocre work— but in my opinion, it all serves a purpose in artistic practice. The excitement is that you are putting yourself at the mercy of the unknown. That’s a wonderful feeling, as opposed to endlessly repeating something that you’re good at, receiving accolades because you’ve met the outside world’s expectations. As an artist, I have always put my hands on mediums that I haven’t touched before. Not in a hurried, frenetic way, to quickly expose something to the world, but to take my time, explore a particular practice on a deeper level. Moving outside of one’s immediate realm refreshes your energy. A new audience, new collaborators—new possibilities that you could never have imagined.


My husband, who is a filmmaker and a visual artist, has been my most important collaborator. We encountered each other seventeen years ago through the making of art, and we fell in love. Immediately our relationship became integral to and interwoven with our work. It’s been an interesting evolution— we have radically different aesthetics and remarkably different approaches to filmmaking and art. When you’re working and sharing with someone you know so intimately, you are flung wide open, there’s no barrier to protect you. There’s a danger in that—it can give extra weight to giving and receiving criticism. But you can also have a running dialog that stretches back while also managing to propel you forward. You must live with ideas. Through our collaboration, we have had times of impasse, where each small agreement had to be negotiated. Other times, that intimacy allowed the collaboration to be frictionless. We are able to dance around each other’s tendencies, weaknesses, and strengths. To this day, we have an extremely respectful relationship, even if we disagree.


The cultivation of a community of collaborators has been essential to my life and career. We are always traveling as a troupe of people: Iranians, Americans, Europeans, etc. My son was only seven when I separated from my husband, and coincidently my career began to flourish. He traveled with me everywhere while I went to shoot films. His childhood was filled with immense adventure—we often ended up in extremely impoverished communities in Mexico, Morocco, or Turkey where he had to face some very harsh reality. There were many times when it felt extremely hard, but when I ask him today, he says he feels blessed to have had those experiences and to have been given an expanded sense of community. The way he saw the world, all the different children he was able to interact with, that was something very rare and meaningful.


Today in my studio we have a wonderful community of Iranian artists who are helping me—it has been rather a replacement for that lost sense of home. I’m always surrounded by these people, whom I consider to be like my family. I feel quite happy today, and in fact, I am slowly losing my nostalgia for “home,” the desire to return, an obsession that I had for so many years.


Much of my work is about the notion of exile due to political circumstances such as the Islamic Revolution. I have not chosen it because I think it’s controversial. Every artist finds issues and questions that are relevant to their experience. I am not an activist. I have never been an activist. I am animated by a conviction and devotion to my art that is uncompromising. There is no separation between my personal and work life. I am just fundamentally curious, whether I succeed or fail.


Photography: Brigitte Lacombe for NeueJournal
Guest Photo Editor: Janet Johnson