27 May 2000

Events Shirin Neshat

Photography Soliloquy

A certain nostalgia for the simple pleasures of childhood, strong social ties and old traditions pervades Soliloquy, the recent film installation by Shirin Neshat, Iranian by birth, and now a new yorker by adoption. On a par with her previous semi-autobiographical works such as Rapture, Soliloquy is a series of reflections on the sense of disorientation generated by changing values. The film consists of two parts that are projected on life-size, facing screens. The artist, who is appearing in one of her films for the first time, plays the leading role in both short segments. The space between the two screens is the symbolic representation of the schism between the society in which Shirin Neshat was born and the one she lives in today. The woman – wearing a traditional black chador and with the same stoic posture throughout the film – seems identical in both scenarios.

The difference is that, while one story takes place amidst the dusty ruins of an Asian city, the other is enacted in a bustling western metropolis. On a more elementary narrative level the film describes a day in which the lives of the two women follow a parallel path. Like her other films, this one too is without dialogue: Kurdish chants blend with the sounds of short-wave radio broadcasts picked up in the West and the East, and accompany both women as they wonder in search of solace. One goes to a mosque, the other to a Catholic church. Both end by resuming their respective wanderings, but while one goes off with a sense of renewal from acceptance and the experience of engagement in a ritual cleansing, the other after having remained seated alone at the back of the cathedral, excluded from the prayers of the nuns and priests seems even more lost than before. Both women are outsiders, and at the end both find themselves alone. More than the story of a single woman, the film describes the experience of anyone seeking something more be it a spiritual bond or merely sense of belonging.

Soliloquy is the third film installation that Shirin Neshat has completed, and with its seventeen minutes of running time, also the longest. Of the three it is the most narrative, the most elaborate, and the first to have been filmed in color.