Neshat left Iran to study art in Los Angeles. It was about this time that the Iranian Revolution occurred. As an effect of the political restructuring after the revolution, her father who had been financially secure and about to retire was left without benefits and a meager salary (MacDonald 4). Once the revolution was over and the society was restructured as a traditional Islamic nation, her family was no longer able to enjoy the comfortable life to which they had grown accustomed. About a year after the revolution, she moved to the San Francisco Bay area and began studying at Dominican College. Eventually, she enrolled in UC Berkeley and completed her BA, MA and MFA.
Here is an interview by Charlie Rose of Shirin Neshat, it starts around minute 31:20
The work of Shirin Neshat addresses the social, political and psychological dimensions of women’s experience in contemporary Islamic societies. Although Neshat actively resists stereotypical representations of Islam, her artistic objectives are not explicitly polemical. Rather, her work recognizes the complex intellectual and religious forces shaping the identity of Muslim women throughout the world.
“Shirin Neshat doesn’t quite know where to call home. The 43-year-old artist was born and raised in Iran but moved to the U.S. after high school to study art. When the Islamic Revolution overtook her homeland in 1979, Neshat was exiled and couldn’t return until 11 years later–and the country she went home to bore little resemblance to the one she left.”
Excerpt “Of course, it’s important for both my Western and Iranian audience to understand that while my work investigates social and political issues of Iran, it remains conceptual, not at all claiming to be `actual’ or `realistic’ about the subjects. Another important factor to keep in mind is that the work is made from the perspective of an Iranian living abroad, therefore it bears an exilic point of view.
My themes always seem to develop as a personal inquiry toward certain issues that I am faced with as an individual; for example my resentment and questions toward political powers or events such as the Islamic revolution (1979) that has determined the course of my life and so many other Iranians’. Consequently this path naturally has pulled me toward a larger cultural investigation, which I happen to care deeply about. Therefore, to properly analyze my work, one must always consider both its personal and social context that always run in parallel. Of course in process I seem to frame and raise many questions, which naturally bring me to investigate, confront and at times deconstruct all kinds of stereotypes such as the notion of ‘orientalism’.
In regard to your other point, my interest in the subject of women is partially due to the fact that as a woman I feel closer and more sympathetic toward their situation living under oppressive societies. But also, because I believe in Islamic societies such as in Iran, by studying the predicament of the women, one could learn about the overall ideological structure of the political system that rules the country.”