ON DEMAND: A Virtual Conversation on the making of Shirin Neshat’s Land of Dreams - Guild Hall

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ON DEMAND: A Virtual Conversation on the making of Shirin Neshat’s Land of Dreams

Photo by Lyle Ashton Harris. Courtesy of the artist and CRG Gallery, NY.

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Monday, October 19 - January 2, 2021
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Overview

It seems only natural that the globally celebrated Iranian-born photographer and filmmaker Shirin Neshat — who has spent a lifetime revealing the injustices between classes and genders, mostly in Islamic societies — would eventually turn her iconic kohl-lined eyes toward the same discrepancies in her adopted home country, the United States.

The result — released earlier this year — is the Land of Dreams exhibition, a poignant and at times satirical two-part video installation on the hopes and desires of America’s marginalized masses, in particular, people of color in New Mexico, one of the poorest states. Neshat, who was named the most important artist of the decade by Huffington Post critic G. Roger Denson, included communities of immigrants (mostly Latino), African-Americans, and the Native American population.

And while she was filming Land of Dreams, Sophie Chahinian of The Artist Profile was filming her.

It all came together at Guild Hall in A Conversation on The Making of Shirin Neshat’s Land of Dreams on Sunday, October 18, at 5:30pm, featuring both Neshat and Chahinian on the John Drew Theater stage, interviewed by Guild Hall’s Executive Director Andrea Grover, recorded with all of the proper COVID-19 protocol in place.

The Making of Shirin Neshat’s Land of Dreams by Sophie Chahinian runs 25 minutes, and is part of the one-hour Guild Hall event, which focusses on Neshat’s life as an immigrant artist, the art world, and how it has changed in the current climate. 

“Recently I realized that part of the reason I never worked in America, even though I lived in this country, was that I never assimilated completely . . . as an Iranian-American, I still felt like an outsider,” Neshat admitted during the interview on stage at Guild Hall. “I never allowed myself to make a narrative about America, until today.”

Grover is uniquely positioned as a presenter, not only because of her relationship with Guild Hall, but as the founder of Houston’s Aurora Picture Show when she was only 27.

“Initially, Sophie had wanted to do a profile of Shirin Neshat for The Artist Profile Archive. Instead, Shirin invited her on-location to shoot a behind-the-scenes, making-of documentary. Shirin Neshat is probably one of the most renowned living artists. It was a huge honor to have her at Guild Hall and to interview her,” Grover said.

Chahinian’s film was included as part of the public programming of Neshat’s major exhibition Shirin Neshat: I Will Greet the Sun Again at the Broad Art Museum, October 2019 through Feb. 16, 2020. The documentary provides an alternate perspective on Neshat’s process and intention. Key members of the Land of Dreams film team provide insightful commentary about the personal and political backdrop to the surreal videos as they were being created. 

“Shirin Neshat is an artist whose work I have admired for years,” said Guild Hall’s Museum Director Christina Strassfield. “Her use of herself and other female characters in her art as well as behind the scenes in the creation of her films has always fostered an innate feeling of female empowerment. As a first generation Greek-American, I truly could relate to the issues she put forth on immigration, acceptance, and assimilation, and what each of those cost to you as the individual. Her films juxtapose the ethereal and gritty reality of life, and the play between them, as well as the psychological back and forth.” 

Of The Artist Profile’s founder, Strassfield added, “Sophie Chahinian is an amazing filmmaker who is doing excellent work documenting artists of every level and letting them speak in their own voice. The films that are part of The Artist Profile Archive will have a lasting effect and be an asset for generations to come. The Making of Shirin Neshat’s Land of Dreams is by far Sophie’s best work. She was able to capture Shirin’s energy and passion and have it come across in her own voice.”

  • Shirin Neshat

    Shirin Neshat’s photographs and videos address individual freedoms under attack from or repressed by social ideologies. Throughout most of Neshat’s career, she has been exiled from Iran, an outside observer of the increasing rigors of Islamic law’s effect on the country’s women and daily life. In 1990, Neshat visited Iran after twelve years. She was shocked to find women, following the 1979 Islamic revolution, forced to wear the chador, the traditional Islamic veil. Neshat returned to the United States to make the Women of Allah, 1994, a series of self-portraits in which she wears the chador. In the photographs, her face, feet, and hands (the only parts of the body allowed to be shown by Islamic law) are covered in Iranian poetry by Forough Farrokhzad and Tahereh Saffarzadeh. The poetry, placed in sharp contrast to the uniformity of the veil, suggests a personal depth and feeling that often goes unnoticed. The women of Allah are more than icons of oppression; they are complex individuals with desires and ambitions, moving between intense private thoughts and emotions and public political involvement.
     
    The breadth of Neshat’s work extends beyond identity politics, however. As cultural critic Eleanor Heartney observed, Neshat “makes art through her identities as an Iranian and as a woman, but reshapes them to speak to larger issues of freedom, individuality, societal oppression, the pain of exile, and the power of the erotic.” Possessed, 2001, presents a woman without chador, roaming through the streets of an Iranian city. She is overcome with madness and is completely ignored until she takes a platform. Her private suffering then becomes public, and political, attracting a crowd that debates her mania. The mass of people subsequently takes on the traits of her madness, while the woman slips away unnoticed.
     
    Rapture, 1999, is one part of a trilogy produced by Neshat that includes the other highly acclaimed works Turbulent, 1998, and Fervor, 2000. Rapture shows a divided world where architecture and landscape stand as metaphors for entrenched cultural beliefs about men and women. The men are trapped in a fortress while the women make a long journey through the desert to the sea. While the men wrestle and pray, the women eventually board small boats to leave the land entirely. As with Possessed, Rapture’s poetic potential taps into the collective dreams, fantasies, and horrors confronting the Iranian people. 

  • Sophie Chahinian

    The founding producer and director of The Artist Profile Archive, Sophie Chahinian, a Los Angeles native, earned a B.A. in Philosophy from Occidental College. She became involved with independent film production as both a producer and actor before she began working for Light and Space artist Eric Orr in the late 1990s. In her capacity as his studio manager, she interacted with many other Southern California artists such as Ed Moses, Larry Bell, and Robert Irwin. Wanting a more formal education in the field, she moved to England and earned an M.A. in Contemporary Art from the University of Manchester through Sotheby’s Institute of Art London.

    During her studies she read many insightful, academic texts, prompting her to reflect upon her own experience of listening to artists in their own voices, providing an incomparable personal perspective. It was then that she decided to start The Artist Profile Archive as a platform for primary information, allowing artists the opportunity to talk about their own work, in their own words. Her film experience and her formal education in contemporary art proved an effective combination for interviewing artists in their own environments, talking extemporaneously about their work, from which she creates intimate video portraits made up exclusively of the artist speaking and footage of the artist’s work.

    Sophie’s hope is that by sharing these films of working artists discussing their personal backgrounds, creative challenges, sources of inspiration and artistic practices, more people will become engaged with contemporary art and realize its capacity to unite people by identifying the commonality of the human experience.

    Learn more at https://www.theartistprofilearchive.com/

  • Andrea Grover

    Andrea Grover is the Executive Director of Guild Hall. Prior to joining Guild Hall in 2016, she was the Curator of Special Projects at the Parrish Art Museum, where she was awarded both a Tremaine Foundation and an AADA Curatorial Award for her exhibition, Radical Seafaring. At the Parrish, she established the extremely popular community-driven program PechaKucha Night Hamptons, and the exhibition series Parrish Road Show and Platform. Grover founded the nonprofit film center Aurora Picture Show, Houston, Texas, at age 27. She has received fellowships from the Center for Curatorial Leadership, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, and the Warhol Foundation, and has served as a panelist or advisor for Pew Foundation for Arts & Heritage, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Rauschenberg Foundation, and Bogliasco Foundation, among many others. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BFA from Syracuse University.

    http://www.andreagrover.com/

Event Sponsors

Museum Programming supported in part by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, public funds provided by New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, an anonymous donor, Crozier Fine Arts, and funding from The Michael Lynne Museum Endowment, The Melville Straus Family Endowment, and The Lorenzo and Mary Woodhouse Trust
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