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Representations of Muslim women and the veil: questions of image and voice
Unformatted Document Text:  The ambiguity of the border territory may be more readily articulated in the aesthetic forms of photography, independent film-making, video installation or other creative arts. The work of Shirin Neshat, an Iranian who left Iran before the Islamic revolution in 1979, returning there for the first time in 1990 to find herself an exile in her own land, inbetween two cultures, captures the indeterminacy of the veiled woman’s position in that country. The images she presents in her photography and in her video work raise the question of the Muslim woman’s voice, and the complexity, ambivalence and difficulty of its relationship to image and our expectations of image. In a photographic series entitled ‘Women of Allah’ and exhibited in 1993, she uses images of herself wearing the veil, her face bisected by a gun, and overwritten with Farsi poetry, to indicate the power of voice within a body that usually is depicted as silent. Caught between passivity and violence, between silence and speech, this image refuses the viewer a stable position from which to admire ‘the other’ or derogate her imprisonment. Neshat’s video installation, ‘Rapture’ (1999) projects on to facing walls images of a group of chador-clad women journeying towards the sea and images of Muslim men, performing religious rituals but contained within a fortress boundary. This raises powerful questions about desire, the border between freedom and constraint, between one’s own voice and ritual incantation, between self-expression and religious devotion. In its most powerful and evocative image, the women hold up their hands, exhibiting them to both the viewer and the men projected on the opposite wall. Although silent, their hands are inscribed again with written text, suggesting the containment but yet the possibility of a powerful collective voice. The purposeful solidarity of these women,

Authors: Macdonald, Myra.
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The ambiguity of the border territory may be more readily articulated in the aesthetic
forms of photography, independent film-making, video installation or other creative arts.
The work of Shirin Neshat, an Iranian who left Iran before the Islamic revolution in 1979,
returning there for the first time in 1990 to find herself an exile in her own land,
inbetween two cultures, captures the indeterminacy of the veiled woman’s position in that
country. The images she presents in her photography and in her video work raise the
question of the Muslim woman’s voice, and the complexity, ambivalence and difficulty
of its relationship to image and our expectations of image. In a photographic series
entitled ‘Women of Allah’ and exhibited in 1993, she uses images of herself wearing the
veil, her face bisected by a gun, and overwritten with Farsi poetry, to indicate the power
of voice within a body that usually is depicted as silent. Caught between passivity and
violence, between silence and speech, this image refuses the viewer a stable position
from which to admire ‘the other’ or derogate her imprisonment.
Neshat’s video installation, ‘Rapture’ (1999) projects on to facing walls images of a
group of chador-clad women journeying towards the sea and images of Muslim men,
performing religious rituals but contained within a fortress boundary. This raises
powerful questions about desire, the border between freedom and constraint, between
one’s own voice and ritual incantation, between self-expression and religious devotion. In
its most powerful and evocative image, the women hold up their hands, exhibiting them
to both the viewer and the men projected on the opposite wall. Although silent, their
hands are inscribed again with written text, suggesting the containment but yet the
possibility of a powerful collective voice. The purposeful solidarity of these women,


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