Shirin Neshat redefines the American dream at Goodman Gallery
Twenty years since her last solo exhibition in London, the Iranian filmmaker and photographer opens a new show capturing the breadth of American identity
‘Land of Dreams’ is the first time that Shirin Neshat has looked to America – where she has lived for 40 years – for the focus of her work. Almost augural, the exhibition opening followed the recent escalation of tensions between her native land, Iran and her adoptive home of the US. Throughout the show, she explores the American dream, as read by an Iranian. Her protagonist, Simin, serves as a guide both in portraiture and film and stands in for Neshat, allowing the artist some objective distance.
The show comprises two video installations and over 100 portraits, the latter showing diverse American faces, each looking back at the viewer as though about to tell a story.
The videos are a satirical juxtaposition of the American dream, specifically the dream of the marginalised, and the US tensions with Iran. The first follows Simin as she knocks on doors in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the hopes of documenting its residents’ portraits and dreams. The second subverts the perception of what Iranians get up to, depicting a surreal Iranian dream-processing plant, where current narratives would suggest a bomb-making factory.
Neshat chose New Mexico for its demographics: it is one of the poorest US states, its populations of Hispanic people, African American and Native Americans are among the largest in the country. For the artist, who before the project had never met a Native American, the destitution she witnessed on their reservations stood in marked contrast to the dignity of the people.
The exhibition hinges on Neshat’s own immigrant identity and divided sense of home. She had returned to America in 1996 after a period of politically motivated detainment in Iran, a reaction against her work. Upon her release, she arrived at the US border and met an African American immigration officer, who welcomed her home. ‘Land of Dreams’ is Neshat’s reaction to the increased hostility that immigrants in America now experience in the years since. The Goodman exhibition is but the first chapter of her project, she hopes to start shooting a feature film by the same name this spring.
It’s looking to be a major year for the artist, who has recently been announced as Master of Photography at Photo London 2020. A celebratory show, including a site-specific installation, will be on view at Somerset House from 14 May – 21 June. §