Shirin Neshat and Tania Bruguera, two important contemporary artists whose works consider gender and politics in their homelands of Iran and Cuba, will be in conversation on December 11 at 7pm at the SVA Theatre (watch the live stream here). The event titled Women Speaking to Power: Tania Bruguera and Shirin Neshat in Conversation is being hosted by MA Curatorial Practice. Department Chair Steven Henry Madoff, who will guide the Q&A session that will follow the conversation, acquaints SVA Close Up with Neshat and Bruguera’s concerns.
In what ways do you think Shirin Neshat and Tania Bruguera are speaking to power?
Shirin has made her career by creating images that speak about the relationship of women to power within Islam. In her initial works, she was addressing the role of Iranian women but I think it can be extrapolated to look at the role of women in other societies as well. In her film Women without Men (2009), she once again returned to the Iranian Revolution when the Shah was forced out. This history is told through four women using magic realism. I happen to be one of the writers of this film, which is based on a famous Iranian novel. In other works, she has spoken about more than the role of women but it’s always about relationships of power, how the oppressed deals with power and how they are pushed down by power.
Tania, on the other hand, has been in the news because of her multiple arrests and detentions by the Cuban government. She is dealing as directly as one possibly could with a power that is her government. Both Shirin and Tania come with very specific autobiographical perspectives to the issues as well as larger understandings and very strong beliefs about the subject. I think it should be quite powerful to hear them in conversation.
Could you tell us more about what in their practice interests you the most?
Tania’s installations and her performances integrate with her ambitions as an educator. (Bruguera runs an informal school called Cçtedra Arte de Conducta or the Behavior Art School, where students and artists discuss and analyze sociopolitical behavior and try to understand how art could be used as a means for ideological transformation.) Her practice is about taking action and I find that fascinating. She has also brought her unique ideas about teaching to the United States.
Shirin is not an educator in the formal sense but she is an eloquent speaker about these issues. I remember a couple of her videos in which poets are addressed as speaking outside the rule of law because poetry itself is outside the rule of law. She talks about how the “artist” coexists, struggles with and is punished by power. In her photographs, where she writes in Farsi across the image, you can see it is a scarification: it’s a tattoo and a memory of the relationship between poetry and power.
Are Neshat, Bruguera and you talking about the same power?
I have no clue and it would be interesting to find out. They are two people who come from different cultures but deal with similar issues and who live in the United States, so there is a third perspective there. They don’t know each other very well personally, so they’re excited about this conversation, as are the 1,000 people who have indicated on social media sites that they want to attend the event.
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Photo from left to right: Tania Bruguera and Shirin Neshat.