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11.5: Feminism Art (1970-1999)

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    Feminism is a French word, feminisme, and labeled the concept of social and political movements with ideologies for women's equality. Feminisme moved rapidly from Europe to the United States in the early 20th century and became synonymous with the Women's Movement. It means woman (femme) and a social movement (isme) and implied social change for women, culminating with their right to vote in 1920. The "women's movement," referred to in the United States, had a critical turning point in the 1960s when it expanded into women's liberation. This second wave of feminism was directly related to the "capitalist economies which had drawn millions of women into the paid labor force, and civil rights and anti-colonial movements had revived the politics of democratization."[1] The advent of the Feminist movement incited a wave of core female issues such as reproductive rights, equal rights, sexism, and gender roles through art activism. The 1970s conscious raising challenged the status quo, demanding the art world to change the inequality of art.

    Shirin Neshat

    Shirin Neshat (1957-) is an Iranian-born artist who fled the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and moved to the United States at seventeen. She graduated with an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley, moved to New York City, and worked at an independent gallery. Returning to Iran for the first time in 1990, Neshat was shocked by the social and political upheaval caused by the war. Returning to the States, she dove into her art, mixing Farsi text with photographs based on her experience in Iran. The text is from female authors during the revolution, such as poet Tahereh Saffarzadeh (1935-2008).[3] Neshat used woman’s body parts not covered by the chador or long gown. She used women’s poetry for her words because they gave voice to individuals and a woman’s sexuality hidden by the chador or veils.

    "Shirin's exhibit was motivated by the series of political uprisings, now commonly known as the Arab Spring, which took place throughout different Arab countries between 2011 and 2012. The Book of Kings explored the causal conditions of power within social and cultural structures in the modern society."[4]

    Neshat's early photographic work addressed the women's psychological experience in Islamic cultures. Exposing the issues of femininity and how women identify themselves, she captures the concepts of polemical essays. Speechless (9.7.5) is one of a group of formidable images Neshat has connected to Islamic fundamentalism. During her return to Iran, she faced a changing country, men had taken control, and the once cosmopolitan women no longer existed. Staging photographs of women in chador dressings staring right at the viewer and holding guns with text on their faces were powerful art pieces. The print Speechless is a close-up of a woman's face with the barrel of a gun in place of an earring. The women do not appear weak; instead, Neshat has portrayed them as solid and heroic despite suffering through years of social persecution. Neshat created a series entitled The Villains (9.7.6), pictures of older men with calligraphic details across their chests and arms. The text represents metaphors from the Book of Kings—a Hebrew Bible written in two books. In Bahram, the scene depicts the king on a horse leading an army of men carrying a flag across the plains into battle.

    a womans head with script across the flesh and a gun sticking out of her headdress by the ear
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Speechless (1996, print and ink, 167.6 x 133.4 cm) (CC BY 2.0)


    a man sitting in black pants with tattoos all over his chest and arms
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Bahram (Villians) (2012, gelatin silver print, acrylic, 251.7 x 126.3 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0 )

    I Am Its Secret (9.7.7) is an image of a veiled Muslim woman gazing into the camera. Neshat used herself for the face of the woman. Farsi, in black and white lettering, covers her face in a circular pattern, swirling around and around. Allegiance with Wakefulness (9.7.8) depicts her feet covered with Farsi, a gun held between her feet and pointed at anyone who comes. The images are from Neshat’s series “Women of Allah,” made when she returned to Iran after the revolution. The series covered the theme of a veil, gun, text, gaze, and Farsi words. Neshat wrote, “Although the Farsi words written on the works’ surfaces may seem like a decorative device, they contribute significant meaning. The texts are amalgams of poems and prose works, mostly by contemporary women writers in Iran. These writings sometimes embody diametrically opposing political and ideological views, from the entirely secular to fanatic Islamic slogans of martyrdom and self-sacrifice to poetic, sensual, and even sexual meditations.”[5]

    a woman with a black scarf around her head with red text on her flesh
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): I Am Its Secret (1993, photographic print on paper, 49.5 x 33.5 cm) ( CC BY-SA 2.0)


    two feet with black text on the flesh with a gun in-between the feet
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Allegiance with Wakefulness (1995) ( CC BY-NC 2.0)


    Interactive Element: Shirin Neshat

    Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat uses film, video, and photography to explore issues of gender and identity, focusing on women's relationships with the religious and cultural systems of Islam.


    [3] Phaidon Authors. (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. (p. 298).

    [4] Retrieved from:

    [5] Retrieved from

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