The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art presents Shirin Neshat: Rapture in the museum’s State Street Gallery from December 11, 2010, through March 6, 2011. Neshat, who was born in Iran and moved to the United States in 1978, at the age of 17, is highly acclaimed for her films, photographs, and videos that explore the experience of women living in contemporary and traditional Islamic cultures. Neshat’s seminal video installation Rapture (1999) is on loan to MMoCA from The Art Institute of Chicago.
Rapture, one of Neshat’s early works, consists of two projections shown on opposing gallery walls. One projection shows a group of men dressed alike in Western-style white shirts and black pants. The other shows a group of women wearing traditional Iranian dress, including the chador,which covers their heads and most of their bodies, and in some cases, the niquab, a face covering. Despite these garments, the viewer is able to decipher individual features and expressions.
The installation, which is 13 minutes long and shown in continuous loops, shows elegiac and meditative scenes of the two groups. As the women traverse landscapes of sand and stone, the men navigate the stone architecture of an ancient city. As the women cry out—whether in celebration or anger, it’s unclear—the men unroll Persian prayer rugs and quarrel. In the final scene, the women gather on a beach, where they maneuver a small boat into the crashing waves. As their bare feet break the sand surface, the hems of their chadors become wet with salt water. Ultimately, six women remain in the boat as it drifts out to the sea.
Although art historians reference Neshat’s upbringing in Iran and her experiences in the United States as a way to shed light on her body of work, Neshat herself is neither dogmatic nor clear about her intentions. “From the beginning,” she said in a 1999 interview with art critic Arthur Danto, “I made a decision that this work was not going to be about me or my opinions on the subject, and that my position was going to be no position. I then put myself in a place of only asking questions but never answering them.”
Writing in The New Yorker about Neshat’s two-channel projections, Peter Schjeldahl wrote, “Neshat's elegant, two-screen meditations on the culture of the chador in Islamic Iran emit an icy heat of suppressed passions; they are among the first undoubtable masterpieces of video installation.”
MMoCA will mark the opening of Shirin Neshat: Rapture with two related events in an MMoCA Nights celebration from 6:30 to 9 pm on Friday, December 10. At 6:30 pm in the museum’s lecture hall, Michael Jay McClure will discuss Rapture’s sculptural presence in a talk titled “Being in Common: Shirin Neshat and the Dimensions of Film.” Following the talk, Neshat’s first feature-length film, Women Without Men (2009), will be screened in the lecture hall as part of the museum’s Spotlight Cinema series. The evening, which is free to MMoCA members and $5 for the general public, will also feature seasonal refreshments and live music from acclaimed jazz violinist Randal Harrison.
Generous funding for Shirin Neshat: Rapture has been provided by Gabriele Haberland and Willy Haeberli; Gina Carter; Linda Bochert; Barbara Swan and Roy Tull; Linda Clifford; Kristine Euclide; Brenda Furlow; Jane Hamblen; JoAnne Kloppenburg; Ann Ustad Smith; Patricia Struck; Mary Turke; Teresa Welch; Claudia Sanders; Maryann Sumi; Sarah Zylstra; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and the Art League of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
The MMoCA Nights opening of Shirin Neshat: Rapture is sponsored by Newcomb Construction Company, with media support provided by Isthmus/TheDailyPage.com.