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Shirin Neshat Builds a Land of Dreams
Before the pandemic, another kind of travel ban was implemented in the US. At the end of 2017, President Trump’s Executive Order 13780 prohibited entry to nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen on the basis of protecting the US against extremist terrorism. Though this was to last 90 days, a further proclamation extended the ban indefinitely. By 2020 varying degrees of prohibition covered nationals from North Korea, Chad, Venezuela, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria and Tanzania. Some of those not permitted to enter the US were those who already held Diversity Immigrant Visas (also known as the Green Card Lottery visas). The ban, which critics called out as anti-Muslim, was revoked in 2021.
Somewhere between these two points in time, Iranian-American artist Shirin Neshat began working on a group of works collectively titled Land of Dreams (2019–), comprising 111 black-and-white portraits, a black-and-white two-channel video and a feature film shot in colour (these last following a central character named Simin). Each of these might be looked at, or watched, separately – but they are also jigsaw pieces that, when fitted together, form a bigger picture. Neshat’s early photoworks (Unveiling, 1993, and Women of Allah, 1993–97) and videos (Turbulent, 1998, Rapture, 1999, Soliloquy, 1999, and Women Without Men, 2009) focused on providing a critical voice against the sociopolitical impacts of Islamic law on women in Iran and are informed by the artist’s experiences of returning to a home much-changed since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 (following an encounter with law enforcement officials in 1997, she has not returned). Always semiautobiographical, those early works of Neshat’s mostly reflected on her Iranian heritage alone. This latest body of work, however, might be the most representative of her status as an “American immigrant”, as she says, a position she has long held but never quite explored. In Land of Dreams she turns her lens towards what it is to live in the US as someone who is not white. Where the idea of those titular dreams (of success, money, a better life) are sold to the many, but granted to few.