April 2015

Shirin Neshat, Identified, 1995 © Shirin Neshat. Photo: Cynthia Preston, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
This woman is silent, but is she speaking to you? "I can't tell if she is laughing or smiling or if the expression on her face is severe...She is a riddle, an enigma, a beauty..." That is writer Kaelen Wilson-Goldie’s response to Shirin Neshat’s striking self-portrait, Identified, 1995. Is Neshat speaking to you through the silence of a photograph? Respond to our question with text, photos, videos, or audio files, and we’ll feature your response on our website.

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Speaking through Silence: The Enigmatic Beauty of Shirin Neshat's 'Identified'

As a student at the University of Virginia in the mid-1990s, I once took a class with Farzaneh Milani, a Persian studies scholar, on women’s fiction in the modern Middle East. Milani was a theatrical teacher. Once a semester, she would breeze into class wearing full chador—not her usual style—for the explicit purpose of shocking her students into a frank and open debate about politics, religion, rebellion, revolution, the body, and the veil. It was a stunt I never saw, but she told the story well, and the complexity of what she wanted us to address—of what she wanted us to untangle in ourselves and in heated discussion with one another—established the groundwork for much of the looking and thinking I have been doing ever since.

It was around that time that I began writing about art. I would drive to New York (eventually I moved there) and…