In case you missed Turbulent, Shirin Neshat's enchanting 1998 video installation at the Whitney's Philip Morris space last year, now is your chance to see how this Iranian-born, Berkeley-educated artist melds images and sound into mesmerizingly lyrical narratives.
In Rapture, her most recent video work, Neshat establishes the first of many dichotomies with the architecture of the installation: simultaneous audio-video sequences are projected on opposite walls. The work unfolds to show men on one side, dressed in uniform white shirts and black pants, as both the heroes and prisoners of a fortress by the sea. They stomp loudly through dusty passages, scramble and wrestle in the ramparts, make endless ablutions and preparations for prayer, and pause only when transfixed by the women projected across the dark room. Sheathed in the flowing black robes of the traditional Islamic chador, the women wander over a barren plain toward the sea. Their journey is one of solemn roaming ruptured only by chants and prayers. At the water's edge, a throng gathers to heave a huge wooden boat into the undulating waves with several women aboard.
As these parallel but distinctly segregated narratives unfurl, Neshat reveals a specific view of women's experience in Islamic society that opens up to imply the more sweeping gendered discord between culture and nature. Rapture's themes resonate with Neshat's earlier work, as she has been addressing questions of identity and of Islamic culture's particular construction of gender for several years. But rather than beat the worn drum of identity politics, Neshat uses her medium to reframe familiar issues with exquisite simplicity. Rapture evokes the ambiguities implicit in her experience of gender, religion, exile, and liberation and makes them universal.
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