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Home arrow CINEMA arrow [VENEZIA74] Shirin Neshat presents "Looking for Oum Kulthum" (interview)
[VENEZIA74] Shirin Neshat presents "Looking for Oum Kulthum" (interview)
di Andrea Falco   

101351717-2c7e9668-76a3-433f-a097-267a2460b43a.jpgShirin Neshat was born in Iran in 1957. She lives and works in New York and calls her art “personal, political, emotional.” She studied art in Los Angeles in the year of the Iranian Revolution (1978-1979), and saw her country Islamicize over the 1990s. She chose photography as her artistic medium, her pictures are exhibited in museums all over the world, as well as conceptual installation and cinema. In 2009, with her first movie Women Without Men, she was awarded the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. This year, in August, she directed opera for the first time, the Aida, at the Salzburg Festival with the conduction of Riccardo Muti.

Photography, video, documentary, and now fiction feature. Is this a continuous experimentation with visual languages or an evolution? What’s next?
I like to think my signature as an artist is starting something and then changing completely. Medium-wise, too. I fell in love with cinema and storytelling. I recently did an opera (Aida at the Salzburg Festival, ed.), a new experiment for me. I get very bored doing the same things all the time, I feel that the change of medium is a reflection of my own personality. I need to keep reinventing myself and have a part of me that feels fresh and excited, no matter the end result. It seems to me this is not so common in the arts as one would think. Many artists find out what they are good at and keep repeating it, it’s a matter of expectations, too. I, for one, prefer to push the limits. It’s no special gift, it’s just that I am interested in experimenting and always expect the next big thing. It’s invigorating and you learn a lot in the process.

Close-ups on the face of the protagonist, dilated motions, colour jump cuts, and more. Your film shows clearly your style, a style that penetrates the surface of images and takes your audience into a non-verbal world. What limits and what freedoms did you experiment with in using pure cinema?
I am a visual artist, which means that I like as little dialogue as possible, it’s just not my strength. Also, I prefer the surreal to the real. The nature of a person lies in their dreams, memories, their conscience. I feel most of my ideas arise when I’m alone, thinking or dreaming. These are the most interesting creative moments. The surreal is a way to show how we are entering the world of imagination, the world where art lives. It is a deeper, much more profound world. To attract the viewer in these moments of surrealism or pure imagery means to take them away from realism and start wondering where art and ideas come from, wondering about the psychological and emotional state of the protagonist of my film. This is inspired by my own experience with art.


image.jpgYou tell the story of an ambitious artist, a forty-year-old mother and wife who sets off to make a movie on her hero, legendary Arabian singer Oum Kulthum. What is the political message in the movie? And what is the poetic message?
In this film, an Iranian movie director lives in exile, she cannot return to Iran to her son. We understand that her whole psychology and relation with art are those of a woman in exile. She feels anger, she feels rage. It’s about the kind of political and social relationships that come with being a woman in a Muslim country. To study to be an artist and have a career in that field is always problematic. She had to choose between being an artist, a filmmaker, and following her passion and being a mother. Obviously, the choice she took doesn’t come without a lot of guilt. In her traditional society, what she did is as shameful as abandoning her son.





A Voice Like Egypt, a documentary on Oum Kulthum’s life story and the way she impacted millions of people with her incredible life as a solo singer in the Arab world. I think the power of this woman and the power of her story is something not only the Middle Easterners but also the Europeans should find out about.
Shirin Neshat
The Home of My Eyes

The Home of My Eyes is a tapestry of human faces: 26 portraits of a nation, Azerbaijan, recounted in the stories of people of different religion and cultures, different generations, yet part of one community. Accompanying these images is video Roja, where Shirin Neshat investigates her being a foreigner in a foreign land and her dreams, memories, present, past, reality, fiction.

Museo Correr (3rd floor), Piazza San Marco