Friday, June 27, 2008

In Conversation with Ayo and Shirin Neshat

Above images: Shirin Neshat
Ayo myspace

The challenge of conversation is the challenge of being an artist, working in your own studio and for yourself. Often, until the work is created and exhibited, it is quiet. This morning however, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation - in my heart - with Ayo and Shirin Neshat.

We spoke about telling the truth and our role as artists.

During her live performance last night, singer/songwriter Ayo said to a small audience, "Have nothing to hide". If you listen to her music, it is evident that she has nothing to hide, the stories of her life are made visible through her music, through the words and the sounds. This truth underwrites her skill as a musician.

Shirin Neshat also speaks truths, counter-Truths as it were. On the role of immigrant artists' like Shirin Neshat, Hamid writes: "The effective role that an immigrant artist thus loses she doubly gains by the freedom that she cultivates from her angular vision of the cultural center. There is something profoundly liberating in engaging in a dialogue with a culture or two with no immediate audience in either and yet something profoundly important to say to both. To speak two counter-Truths to two powers--one colonial, the other patriarchal--is what Shirin Neshat does through her silent yet screaming counter-gaze."

Hamid further writes: "She looks at the patriarchal father/brother/husband with a flirtatious eye towards the colonial officer, while at the same time she mocks the colonial officer via a transparent exposition of the absurdity of his image of her."(1) This is the creative intelligence of Shirin's work, quietly and forcefully existing between one assumption and another. Ironically, the veiling of Shirin's own body in these self-portraits, like Ayo's music, has nothing to hide.

With these rich ideas for conversation, I found that I had this to say:
While I set-up a design studio attuned towards communicating organizational and business needs, what I am quietly preparing myself for is a life of photography. The kinds of images I want to create can only be created here, in a diasporic, Canadian state of imagination. Ironically, traveling back to New Delhi, reinforces how much I am actually rooted here, not there. It forces me out of my childhood imagination and asks me to take responsibility for where I am now and what I am doing with my time here. It sharpens my desire to be an artist and helps me realize the power of an artist to make images that pierce assumptions with beauty. An artist has the power to draw someone in, to take them a step further on their own journey of self-discovery, to willingly take them deeper into their discriminations, of which we all have many. An artist helps prepare the mind and the heart for what the body does next. Will you change who you are because of what you have seen, heard, read? I feel a responsibility to compel you to say "yes".

(1) Hamid Dabashi, "The Gun and The Gaze: Shirin Neshat's Photography" in "Shirin Neshat: Women of Allah", Marco Noire Editore Torino: Italy, 1997.

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