To say Shirin Neshat is an accomplished visual artist doesn’t even scratch the surface of the 59-year-old’s contribution to the world of art. Her thought-provoking and politically charged works, which have often centred on the theme of gender in Muslim countries, have been the source of international discussion and the recipient of global critical acclaim over the years. In 1999, Shirin was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for her film Turbulent, and 10 years later in 2009 at the Venice Film Festival she won the Silver Lion for her film adaption of Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men. This film followed the story of four women in Tehran in 1953 during the American-backed governmental coup. “This award was very instrumental for the film’s exposure around the world,” Shirin tells Bazaar.
Born in Iran, Shirin is now based in New York’s hip SoHo neighbourhood and says that she’s constantly trying to find a middle ground between her country of origin and current home via her style. “I never developed an interest in fashion per se. I think I developed an interest in finding my own style, which is very basic and has never been related to any particular fashion trend at any point in history. It’s more about where I come from as an Iranian, yet being raised in America, and trying to find a middle place where I can keep a bit of both identities, so my style is really a kind of reflection of my hybrid lifestyle.” As a result, she says she “likes very minimal Western clothes paired with non-Western jewellery.” And her jewellery collection is something she has curated from all of her travels and is growing by the day. “I have silver tribal jewellery from all over the world – from Laos and Mexico to Turkey, Iran, Doha, Egypt and Morocco. It’s from all of these places that I’ve gathered together a very large collection of mainly necklaces and earrings. I have at least 200 different pieces that I cherish and wear, which I also consider as works of art.”
A lifelong advocate of Middle Eastern women, Shirin says she appreciates their ability to merge the East and the West. “I think that the women in the Middle East are incredibly elegant and have a very nice style. I really like the way that they maintain this non-Western make-up with the way they do their eyes and eyebrows,” she says, which is fitting given that Shirin’s signature beauty look is a kohl-rimmed eye – “I have always put my eye pencil on.” She continues, “I also like how Iranian women use the scarf; it’s so stylish and original. I like the idea of how the Arab and Muslim women are able to make a sort of hybrid of Western and non-Western fashion with authentic and non-authentic styles together to create something so unique.”
Style, she explains, is something she’s grown into across the years through life experience. “As you mature and go through life, from a young person to middle age to older, you find what makes you feel most comfortable in this world and I think your style is a part of that sense of security. You know how to handle yourself and your body and how you present it to the public. It sort of helps you build a certain confidence,” she explains. “Over time I’ve come to terms with what my best look is, what it is that helps me feel comfortable and happy within myself and how others perceive me. Over time, I’ve arrived at particular styles, for example the eye make-up I like, whether I prefer my hair up or down. In this world things are changing all the time so your style, the idea of being unique, is a certain element of consistency in who you are, which I think brings a level of comfort.”
Shirin Neshat wears her own dress and jewellery. Photography: Aranka Israni. Hair & Make-up: Mina Ghoraishi