Sunday, May 8, 2011

"I Am Its Secret" - Shirin Neshat 1993

Until the Revolution, women were gaining economic and political rights in Iran; however, after the formation of the Islamic Republic, many rights were revoked. For example, women were forced to wear a veil, bilingual schools were closed, and religion was valued more than individual life (Satrapi). The photograph I Am Its Secret emphasizes the lack of women’s rights in Iran to this day. This specific image focuses on the fact that women in Islamic societies do not have any power; they feel as if their only purpose is to be looked at.

The darkness and mystery of this photograph accurately portrays female beauty and desire, yet at the same time there is fear and hurt behind the woman’s eyes. The woman is hidden by a veil and a poem is inscribed in red and black ink across her face. The only thing that is individualistic about the woman is her eyes, which seem to yearn for a change, as they hint that she feels doubt in her religion. The woman is obviously beautiful, with clear skin and bold, piercing eyes, but her true beauty is masked by her religion. She is not allowed to wear certain clothing, she must always be reserved, and she is not permitted to express non-Islamic interests. The thick eyeliner suggests that she wants to feel beautiful, she wants to be loved for who she is, and she wants to be noticed, but in reality, she is afraid to be different. She is just another “violent” Islamic woman. The poem written across her face by Forugh Farrokhzad is translated as the following:

I will greet the sun again;
I will greet the streams which flowed in me;
I will greet the clouds which were
my lengthy thoughts;

I will greet the painful growth of poplars

Which pass through the dry seasons;

I will greet the flocks of crows

Which brought me, as presents,
The sweet smells of the fields at night;
I will greet my mother who lived in the mirror
And was the image of my old age;
And I will also greet the earth whose burning womb
Is filled with green seeds by the passion she has
For reproducing me.
I will come, I will come,

I will come with my hair,

As the continuation of the smells of the soil;
With my eyes, as the dense experiences of darkness,

Carrying the bushes I have picked in the woodlands

beyond the wall.
I will come, I will come,

I will come and the entrance will be filled with love;

And at the entrance I will greet again
those who are in love,
And also the girl who is still standing
At the entrance in diffusion of love (Coates).

This poem emphasizes the feelings and desires of many Iranian women, such as Shirin Neshat. The references to her mother, herself, and “the girl,” refer to the tradition of Islamic culture and its restriction on women’s rights. The repetition of “I will come” emphasizes that one day in the future, women will achieve freedom. They will feel beautiful and loved because they will know what it feels like to be noticed and appreciated. Contrary to works from Ancient China and Europe, women in Iran are not seen as beautiful; they are not even seen as individuals.

Coates, Steve. Shirin Neshat’s ‘I Am Its Secret.’ May 17, 2010. <http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/17/shirin-neshats-i-am-its-secret/>
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Panthenon. Paris, France: 2003.

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