Holding a Mirror to Iran: Liminality and Ambivalence in Shirin Neshat’s Women Without Men

The recent proliferation of Iranian women’s diasporic cinema testifies to the importance of recognising and mapping current trends within the growing field of transnational cinema. In particular, the contribution of exilic and émigré filmmakers reveals the creation of new intercultural cinematic narratives, identities and production methodologies. In her debut feature, Women Without Men (2010), Shirin Neshat inscribes not only her experiences as an Iranian exile but the process of her politicisation as a diasporic artist and filmmaker. Moving beyond the deeply personal reflections embedded within her installation works, Neshat attempts to correlate the injustices of the 1953 coup d’état against President Mossadegh with the failures of the Ahmadinejad government (2005-2013). Women Without Men reveals Neshat’s ongoing ambivalence about the possibility of a democratic and women-centered Iran, both as a geographical and historical entity, and as an imagined and poetic construct. Made in Casablanca, Morocco, Women Without Men never seeks to recreate an ‘authentic’ replica of Neshat’s native Iran, rather it is more interested in revealing the contradictions and slippages within discourses of national belonging. An Orchard, the sublime and often sinister setting for much of the film, becomes emblematic of the exile’s indeterminate state of ‘unhomeliness’. The film thus not only refers to Iran’s current struggle for democracy, but also continues to address Neshat’s particular interest in the equivocal and liminal position of the diasporic individual and artist, as they reside between cultures and between homelands.

In interviews Neshat frequently positions herself explicitly as an exiled diasporic artist divided by competing homelands and cultures. [1] Her works, she argues, speaks to both Iranian and American audiences, although often telling strikingly different stories. Born in Qazvin, 1957, Neshat left Iran in 1975 to pursue her studies in the United States. After completing several degrees at U.C Berkeley in Los Angeles, Neshat returned to Iran in 1990 and was stunned by the “drastic transformation” brought about by the Islamic Revolution. [2] It was her return trips to Iran during the early 1990s that inspired her first two photographic series, Veiling (1993) and Women of Allah (1993-1997). The images, which Neshat designed and directed, feature the artist veiled and covered in Farsi poetry. In many of the stills Neshat provocatively cradles a gun or carries bullets in her hands. As an examination of martyrdom and the ideological fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution, these controversial works saw Neshat banned from re-entering Iran in 1996. Permanently settled in New York, Neshat started experimenting with 16mm film, often using two projectors simultaneously to create multiple-screen installation works. Neshat’s most notable double-screen installations include Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Fervour (2000). Such dialectical works interrogate notions of sexual difference and the way in which gender is treated and schematised within specific Iranian and Islamic cultural frameworks. Neshat’s profile was considerably bolstered after she claimed the International Award at the XLVIII Venice Biennale for Turbulent and Rapture. In the early 2000s Neshat started worked on 35mm short films. Pulse (2001), Possessed (2001) and Touba (2002) were just some of Neshat’s pieces that featured highly choreographed and dramatised rituals. Touba was one of the only installation works to have been exhibited in Iran, and foreshadows many of the themes and production practices adopted in Women Without Men. Filmed in Oaxaca, Mexico, the story of Touba centers on the mythical character from the Koran, who is able to metamorphosise into a tree. In Touba, Neshat attempts to harmonise theoretical and aesthetic concerns with the imperatives of more sustained storytelling and character development. During the six-year prelude to the release of Women Without Men, Neshat worked on the adaptation of Shahrnush Parsipur’s 1989 novella of the same name, with her husband and artistic collaborator, Shoja Azari. Neshat, has said that in the process of creating their first feature film, she and Azara attempted to “pioneer [their] own way of storytelling. It was about not following patterns or models within cinema, but following the conceptual art and poetic traditions of Iran”. [3] Neshat’s debut was largely well received in the West; it won the Silver Lion at the 2009 Venice film festival and was particularly praised for its arresting visuals and surrealist tone. [4] But there were some complaints that the film was too reliant on “tableaux” [5] and that characterisation remained largely subordinated by imagery. [6] Consistently, however, reviews noted the film’s allusions to the oppressive conditions under the current Islamic Republic, an interpretation Neshat actively encouraged, arguing that the film functions as a political commentary on the pernicious role of Western imperialism and American’s part in obstructing Iranian democracy:

I think my film is not an Iranian story but an American story. It shows Iranians as they struggled for democracy and fought against dictatorship and imperialism. It is also an American story, as it reveals how this country intervened in another country’s politics for its own self-interest. [7]

The film concludes with a dedication to “the memory of those who lost their lives in the struggle for democracy in Iran, from the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 to the Green Movement of 2009”. In making the connection between past political campaigns and the more recent, grassroots activism in the face of President’s Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009, Neshat clearly points to the enduring role America has played in thwarting political process in Iran. While the narrative undoubtedly centers on the disposal of the Iranian Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the actual details of the coup d’état and the specific details of America’s part in the political drama, remain rather oblique at times in Neshat’s film. Women Without Men is not concerned with factual or historically accurate representation, but rather allegorizing the events of 1953 and demonstrating their connection to present-day politics through the strategies of ritual, fantasy and poeticism. This essay is particularly interested in the manner in which Shirin Neshat evokes the liminal space occupied by both Iranian women historically and the diasporic subject through this aesthetic interplay of allegory and magical realism. It examines the problematic nature of utopianism and the failure of the hermetic community in Women Without Men to protect its inhabitants not from the fetters of patriarchal society, but from their own anxieties and internal anguish.

Dr Mohammad Mossadegh had been popularly elected as the Iranian Prime Minister in 1951 and passed the Nationalisation Law the same year, through which the government intended to reclaim total control of Iranian oil resources. Refusing to bow to Britain on the conditions of compensation for their previous exploitation through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom were severely compromised by 1952. Another significant objective of the Mossadegh government had been to institute the constitution of 1906 and thus curb the powers of the Shah. [8] But the attempts at nationalisation and democratic reform threatened both Western interests and Iran’s monarchical power structure. The Truman administration, attempting to protect their own oil interests, quickly became embroiled and attempted to mediate a solution between Iran and Britain. When talks failed, the new Republication government, headed by President Eisenhower, became increasingly concerned about Western oil access and Iran’s vulnerability to communism. Thus ‘Operation Ajax’ was hatched. This covert operation, originally devised by British intelligence, but ultimately implemented by the CIA, won the confidence of the Shah and thus co-opted the Iranian military. [9] The Mossadegh government was ousted on 19th August, 1953 with General Fazlollah Zahed being installed as the new Prime Minister and the supremacy of Mohammad Reza Shah consolidated.

Women Without Men depicts the struggles of four women against this backdrop of political tumult, as they each find themselves bound by various Iranian patriarchal institutions and power structures. Munis (Shabnam Tolouei), an aspiring activist, is virtually imprisoned in her home by her religious and conservative brother, Amir Khan (Essa Zahir). She listens to the radio, eager for some news into the fate of Prime Minister Mossadegh, while her brother rails against her for not yet marrying. Meanwhile Faezah (Pegah Ferydony), Munis’ rather naïve and pious friend, visits Munis amidst the street demonstrations in the hope of attracting the romantic attentions of Amir Khan. And then there is the character of Zarin (Orsi Toth), a prostitute in a Tehran brothel, who has withdrawn into a troubled silence as a result of her ongoing sexual exploitation. And finally, the narrative introduces Fakhri (Arita Shahrzad): a middle-aged woman who is unhappily married to a royalist General and who fantasies about leaving her husband and returning to a former and much more cosmopolitan romantic interest, Abbas (Bijan Daneshmand).

The film opens with Munis pacing the terrace roof of her home. Amir Khan has prohibited her from leaving the house and she can hear the tantalizing cries from the demonstrations in the streets below her. She steps up to the ledge of the roof and momentarily pauses, before jumping to her death. The opening scene of Munis’ suicide not only foreshadows the notion that paradise is a mythical ‘no-place’, a utopian fantasy, but it also establishes magical realism as a central aesthetic mode of the film. When Munis jumps from the roof ledge, there is a slow motion shot of the back of her head, her black hair billowing against the blue sky, as she is suspended mid-air. The call to prayer that was heard hauntingly in the background as she anxiously wandered the terrace rooftop, is abruptly replaced by an eerie silence once she jumps. There is a close-up of her face, beatific and resolute, as she falls gradually through the air. Munis is then heard, via voice-over, saying “Now I will have silence…and nothing”. Spectators never witness her body impact the ground, instead it is only her black chador, which crumples and flattens on the paving below, almost as if her body has vanished into the atmosphere mid-fall. The camera remains trained on the blue sky and the slow moving clouds after her jump. The scene of the sky then fades into a shot of the earth and a tributary with rapidly moving water. There is a brief moment, however, when both the sky and the earth appear in the same frame, the two opposing spheres temporarily aligned. In Neshat’s film there is no heavenly paradise awaiting Munis, only the suspended state of liminality. This indeterminate space is evoked literally through Munis’ floating form and, at a more subtle level, through the frame in which the image of the earth momentarily eclipses that of the sky. In pointing to this state of in-betweenness (in-between ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’, life and death, peace and turbulence), Neshat emphasizes a third state of ‘nothingness’. Magical realism, and its way of infusing the fantastical with the ordinary, is the perfect vehicle in which to evoke this fraught space of liminality.

Magical realism is obviously a highly contested term over recent decades, with its definition and application in film and literature forming an ongoing debate. [10] Thought to have originated as a term in Franz Roh’s 1925 critical commentary on post-Expressionist German paintings, magical realism became a recognisable literary genre from the 1940s onwards when it was adopted by a variety of Latin American writers. Its expansion to post-colonial and post-modern fiction during the 1980s inspired rigorous critical dialogue as to the characteristics and hermeneutics of magical realism. Fredric Jameson’s (1988) contribution that magical realism should not be viewed as the magical “supplementing” the real, but rather as a “… reality which is in and of itself magical or the fantastic”, is worth noting (311). In Jameson’s essay magical realism is understood as a method that naturalizes the supernatural and frames the “magical” as an inherent and indistinguishable aspect of the “real”. While Benyei (1997) has argued that such a definition still relies on reductive binaries of the real and the fantastic, it is not necessary to define magical realism as an amalgam of the ordinary with the fantastic. In Neshat’s Women Without Men, the magical also constitutes an expression of the mythical, the psychic and the poetic. It extends beyond the fantastic to include representations of the internal workings of its protagonists and externalizes their experiences as psychological and cultural exiles. Munis’ suicide, for example, should not be interpreted as a termination of her earthly life, nor her entrée into a heavenly paradise, but as Neshat defamiliarising and allegorisising the process of death. For in Women Without Men, Munis’ death signals the beginning of a new form of existence in which the she hovers literally and metaphorically on the threshold, detained within a suspended ‘utopia’ – literally, a no-place or a nothingness. Magical realism thus provides Neshat with an opportunity to poetically describe the experience of exile as a state of absence and loss.

Spectators only observe Munis’ body once Amir Khan discovers it in the courtyard. Although inert and supine, Munis appears peaceful, lying unscathed on the cobblestones. Amir Khan buries her in a chador in the garden, while Faezah looks on sobbing. In the interim Zarin has fled the brothel and after an ill-fated visit to a bathhouse and wandering the streets of Tehran in a traumatised stupor, eventually makes her way down a deserted dirt road. It is from here that she discovers a tributary and a small archway in a stone wall, which in turn allows her to access the enclosed and lush gardens of the Orchard, just purchased by Fakhri in an attempt to take refuge from the demands of her troubled marriage. Meanwhile Munis’ death has not dampened Faezah’s determination to marry Amir Khan and she visits an elderly woman where she learns of a magical rite that she can perform in order to halt Amir Khan’s impending nuptials. It is thus at Amir Khan’s actual wedding, when trying to bury her enchanted package, that Faezah first hears Munis’ voice emanating from the earth below. Faezah begins scrounging through the dirt until she is eventually able to unearth an apparently still living Munis. The reawakened Munis wastes no time in getting to a coffee house and listening to the details of the political demonstrations on the radio. She is so absorbed by the commentary she doesn’t notice that Faezah has left her and is followed by two sinister men from the coffee house, who proceed to rape her. Munis eventually discovers Faezah cowering in an alleyway and she leads the battered and apparently shamed young woman out of Tehran. The two women, both in black chadors, travel the same dirt road that Zarin previously walked in order to reach the Orchard. Munis explains to a bewildered Faezah that she won’t be joining her in the Orchard and that she must return to Tehran. “Don’t be afraid” she reassures Faezah. “Go inside. It is for your own good.” Thus a significant chapter of the narrative begins whereby Munis joins an underground communist group in Tehran while the ailing Zarin and Faezah are treated to Fakhri’s gentle and nurturing caretaking in the Orchard.

While the Orchard certainly represents an alternate sphere to the repressive socio-political world of 1953 Tehran in the film, it does not function as a classical utopia in terms of offering its inhabitants a singularly safe and paradisiacal space of retreat. The Orchard is filled with the possibility of redemptive healing and personal transformation but it is also pervaded by memories of sexual violence, emotional trauma and the lure of death. Despite the physical distance from Tehran and the fact that it is enclosed by high stone walls, the Orchard is not a hermetic social sphere, representative of an ‘ideal’ or lost society. Instead the Orchard operates as a multi-faceted, reactive space that reflects and transmutes itself in response to the psychological states of the occupants. The Orchard allegorises the unresolved, complex and ambivalent relationship the exile maintains to their kinship culture and homeland. And that even in the realm of the imaginary, Neshat’s vision of the Orchard, as a kind of mythical and alternate homeland, is still bound by the pain and loss of exilic consciousness.

The Orchard does, however, perform and allow for curative and therapeutic processes. It is a multi-dimensional and responsive space, and thus different parts of the Orchard serve varying functions. It is composed of three distinct zones that will be designated in this essay as the “domestic garden”, the “forest garden” and the “desert garden”. The domestic garden is that which surrounds Fakhri’s house in the Orchard and it is the most cultivated and regenerative space of the three gardens. The forest is a more ominous and haunted area, with the trees aligned in menacing symmetry and the dim light casting the forest in a symbolic interplay of black and white shades. The third zone, the “desert garden”, is a space of flux – initially starting as a dry and barren expanse; it begins to flourish as the women undergo a course of emotional and physical healing. If the Orchard does represent an alternate world to that of 1953 Tehran, it is an imaginary and conceptual sphere that is complicated by its contradictions and internal peculiarities. While Neshat obviously draws heavily on Babylonian, Persian, Asian, Islamic and Christian mythologies of sacred and paradisiacal gardens, the Orchard is both a place of retreat and a space of exile.  It is perhaps at best an ambivalent utopia containing the elements of nostalgia for a possible homeland, as well as being simultaneously pervaded by the socio-cultural constraints and anxieties associated with present-day Iran.

The ‘Mirror’ and the In-between Spaces
Another way of understanding the Orchard is through the framework of Michel Foucault’s ‘heterotopology’. In a lecture given in March 1967 (and later published as a manuscript in 1986), Foucault distinguished between utopias and heterotopias. Utopias, according to Foucault, are unreal sites that exist as inversions or analogies of real spaces. They represent society in a perfected and idealised form and thus exist in the realm of the imaginary. Then there are heterotopias, which are real, located spaces, but that exist as countersites and thus function outside the dominant or normative societal experiences. Interestingly many of the spaces that Foucault nominates as heterotopias, (cemeteries and the rites associated with death, brothels and bathhouses) all appear in the first part of the film set in Tehran. In particular the character of Zarin negotiates these various heterotopias on her indirect route to the Orchard. The brothel, where we first discover Zarin, is depicted as a grim penitentiary, in which she must passively and hopelessly submit herself to the demands of prostitution. But on encountering a new customer, whose face transforms into a strange, featureless form, Zarin flees the brothel and initially appears to take refuge in a hamman, a public bathhouse. Unlike the male dominated space of the brothel, women and children are the sole occupants of the bathhouse. The opening shot of the bathhouse mirrors the first scene of the Orchard, starting with an aerial view of the ornately detailed domed ceiling. Like the Orchard, the bathhouse is also filled with a kind of mist, in this case rising from the warm baths. Fingers of light cut through the steamy atmosphere and as the camera pans down, spectators observe women and children, taking solace in the rituals of bathing and cleansing themselves and each other. Neshat has discussed the fact that in this scene she has attempted to re-create the atmosphere of a Jean-Leon painting and his orientalist series featuring women bathing in Turkish bathhouses. [11] But Zarin’s emaciated and wasted body immediately sets her apart from the other relaxed and voluptuous bathers. When an older woman approaches Zarin and attempts to assist her with her bathing, she intolerantly waves her away and instead begins to clean herself in a frenzied and brutal fashion. Eventually weakened and covered in blood, Zarin leaves the bathhouse and stumbles upon one final heterotopia, a group of women in mourning. Uniformly covered in their black chadors and submerged in the smoke from the fire in front of them, the women emote freely and ritualistically.

Saadi-Nejad (2009) has argued that the ceremonies in Neshat’s installation work, while partially based in aspects of Iranian traditionalism and Islamic practice, have been modified and dramatised in order to function more as personal rites of catharsis and personal-expression. In this scene Zarin watches the mourners with a kind of painful yearning, again appearing remote and outside of their therapeutic ritual. Their collective grief is starkly contrasted with her isolation and silence. For Zarin, who is already subsisting as an ‘internal’ exile as a prostitute, these countersites, such as the bathhouse and the mourning ritual, provide little comfort. Zarin’s healing requires a far more radical separation from all the known and traditional forms of social and cultural catharsis. Her arrival at the Orchard signals her departure from both the repressive conditions of Tehran and also from the various heterotopias which have also failed to offer her refuge or recovery. The Orchard is thus representative of a third space, an ambivalent utopia, composed of both real and fantastical elements. It is neither representative of the ‘real’ nor the ‘unreal’. Interestingly Foucault does offer another conceptual framework in his schema of heterotopology and that is the experience of the ‘mirror’. The mirror occupies a space between that which is unreal and utopian, and that which is located and heterotopian. The mirror experience is thus generated by composite elements – the psychological merging with the geographical, and the virtual coalescing with the actual.

In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am. The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there. [12]

Foucault’s conceptualization of the mirror is useful in allowing us to understand the composition and function of the Orchard, not as a classical utopia nor as a heterotopic ‘countersite’, but as a ‘mixed, joint experience’ in which both the real and unreal unite. The Orchard literally offers the women the opportunity to observe their trauma and desires as they are reflected and animated in the natural and magical spheres of the gardens. Emotion is externalized and is expressed poetically and fantastically without fear of prohibition or shame. A pertinent example of this is Zarin’s behavior on first arriving at the Orchard. Fakhri and the Gardener (who it is important to note was the customer who visited Zarin in the brothel and whose face transformed into a blank, eyeless form) first discover her body floating in a green mossy pond. At first Zarin appears to be inert and lifeless but as the camera zooms in, spectators can observe her shallow but persistent breathing. Her immersion in the water appears to be indicative of a contradictory state; it signals both her readiness to die but also her willingness to heal. Water, it must be noted, is a reoccurring element in Women Without Men and appears to be symbolic of this “mixed, joint experience” indicating a liminal state between life and death or between the real and the unreal. For example, when Munis is first unearthed by Faezah in Amir Khan’s garden she walks immediately to the pristine pool and submerges herself in the blue water. Again the scene is observed from an aerial perspective and the image of Munis’ dress and petticoat billowing in the azure pool evokes the opening of an exquisite and beautiful flower. Munis stays under the surface of the water for a prolonged period, again alluding to the ever-present lure or threat of death. But the act of immersion and cleansing allows Munis to transition from a ghostly, unreal form into a fully embodied and vital figure, who then proceeds to engage in Tehran life as part of the Communist-Nationalist movement. Similarly, Zarin’s presence in the pond at the Orchard symbolizes the conclusion of her life in Tehran as a prostitute and the beginning of her new existence in the Orchard. Zarin’s experience in the pond initiates the recuperative process of physical and psychological transfiguration that the traditional bathing house could not facilitate. In order for Zarin to surrender to the process of healing she must move through a series of liminal states and behaviors that see her suspended precariously between life and death. Zarin’s ‘liminality’ may be persuasively read as an allegory for the diasporic experience, whereby the exiled individuals find themselves positioned between cultures, homelands, and between the states of exilic loss and the possibility of the new.

Retreat and the Possibility of the New
In fact another way of defining the Orchard and thus the diasporic experience may be through the framework of liminality. Like the notion of Foucault’s ‘mirror’, liminality also refers to an in-between, ambiguous space. It references the way in which normative standards and social practices may be temporarily dissolved and inverted. Jan Relf (1991), in her essay on women’s literary utopias, describes the importance of liminality in encouraging social change and transformation. Relf argues that women-centered utopias can play a positive role if viewed as temporary places of retreat and refuge. In Relf’s schema, a utopia should be characterized by its “profusion of threshold images” (138): walls, doors or shorelines that can be transgressed and/or deconstructed. It is important, Relf explains, that a women-centered utopia is not an enclosed or impenetrable space. Women must not be imprisoned or confined in their chosen space or it ceases to be any form of utopia at all. In this sense, Relf argues, the geographical terrain of the utopia reflects and emblematises the psychological and social function of this new space; and that is to withdraw from cultural and societal conventions and enjoy a discrete period of recuperation and shelter. Relf explains that this period of retreat is an important transitory phase in the process of instigating new and productive social structures. It enables women to heal and transform before entering a new phase of dialogue and collaboration with their male counterparts. Relf terms the final stage of the process as the “androgynous utopia”: where patriarchal structures have dissolved and new forms of dialogue evolve between the sexes. The reference to the liminal in Relf’s schema is thus an emphasis on the temporary and processual nature of women’s utopias.  They are ‘way-stations’ on the road to something more permanent and sustainable. In Neshat’s Women Without Men, the Orchard does function as a temporary space of retreat for Fakhri, Faezah and Zarin. For a period we see Faezah and Zarin flourish under Fakhri’s careful nurturing and mothering. But as previously noted, the Orchard is not a hermetic space, and pain and suffering continue to be a part of the processes of emotional and physical transformation.

In the next section, I will map how the Orchard may be understood as a liminal space of retreat and thus a continuing metaphor for the hope and possibilities of the diasporic experience. I will outline how both the journey to, and the inhabitance of, the Orchard, suggests a poetic re-imagining of the states of migration and re-territorialisation and how Relf’s notion of utopianism-as-retreat is initially adopted in Women Without Men.

While the Orchard is portrayed as enclosed and secluded in Women Without Men, it accords with Relf’s notion of a utopian space in that it never restricts or detains its female inhabitants. The Orchard is accessed in a variety of ways by the characters, demonstrating the multiple points of entry and exit. Fakhri and Faezah gain admittance via the front gates, which are operated by the benevolent figure of the gardener. As the sole male figure in the Orchard, the gardener functions as a compassionate guardian, safeguarding the women and maintaining the gardens. He is a particularly healing figure in relation to Zarin and the two characters appear to share not only an emotional connection, but also an awareness of the powers inherent in the natural spheres of the Orchard. [13] Zarin, as previously noted, arrives at the gardens via an archway in the stonewall perimeter, wading through a tributary which connects the Orchard with the outside world. Architectural archways appear frequently in the first part of the film. The entrance to Munis’ and her brother’s home is vaulted by a series of ornately curved archways. When Zarin flees from the brothel, spectators witness her running through a stone archway, and the café where Fakhri meets her love interest, Abbas, is enclosed by a series of glazed arches. Arches are obviously a fundamental aspect of Iranian and Islamic architecture and the archways that appear in Women Without Men date from various historical periods, and have been informed by diverse structural, aesthetic and cultural concerns. But further complicating the identification of the arches in Neshat’s film is the fact that they are located and filmed in Casablanca, not Tehran. The presence, then, of certain architectural forms in the film should perhaps be interpreted more allegorically, as symbolic references to various aspects of Persian culture and society. In discussion with Scott MacDonald, Neshat spoke of the way in which architecture, in particular the presence of a monumental archway as used in her video installation work, Soliloquy (1999), was representative of “culture in its traditional values” (2004, 640). And while the archways in Neshat’s film may be obviously interpreted as symbolising the weight and prevalence of Iranian paternalism and Islamic conservatism, they also facilitate transition and transformation. The female characters move through the archways when in flight. Although fearful, they are mobile and unfettered. The most striking example of this is Zarin’s departure from Tehran. After witnessing the group of women wailing and swaying in collective mourning, Zarin climbs the stairs to a roof terrace where a large crowd of men sit prostrated in what appears to be a religious ritual. The non-naturalistic, synchronized movements of the worshippers cast the scene in an eerie, sinister atmosphere. The men are surrounded by rows of adjoining archways and while the men are prostrated, Zarin quietly rests her head against a pillar in a gesture of fatigue and meditation. But when the men suddenly sit up, Zarin starts in fright and quickly departs. On her way out of Tehran, she passes through a dark passage, of which at each end there is an archway. She then travels down a long, unsealed road until she eventually discovers a small stream and miniature archway that enables her to climb through into the Orchard. But unlike the ornate and perfectly symmetrical archways of Tehran, this archway seems almost naturally occurring. The act of moving through the archway signals the states of departure and both the trauma and elation of confronting the new and the unknown. In the process of escaping Tehran, and its associated bonds of oppression and affliction, the protagonists abandon the familiar territory of home or homeland. They then enter into the liminal space of the Orchard, which is no longer structured by religious and societal conventions, but by the principles of self-expression, fantasy and nature. While the Orchard may appear relatively proximate to Iran, it is as alien and strange as any hostland might appear to a new migrant or exile. Zarin and Faezah are particularly vulnerable and exhausted on arrival and the different zones of the Orchard further complicate its foreign, destabilising atmosphere. In a sense, Neshat uses the journey from Tehran to the Orchard as an opportunity to allegorise the passage and processes of border crossing. Rejected and traumatised, the women find themselves in the dislocated state of geographical and emotional exile.

But the Orchard also facilitates recuperation and restoration. It encourages its inhabitants to undergo an individual and private process of healing and transformation. When Zarin arrives at the Orchard, she has completely retreated from language and appears unwilling or unable to speak. Her silence may be interpreted as a form of a voicelessness and disempowerment: a symbol of her ongoing oppression and sexual exploitation. But her lack of speech may also be symbolic of a strategy that enables her to withdraw from the structures and connotations inherent to language and its patriarchal history. In the women-centered sphere of the Orchard, Zarin needn’t conform to conventional methods of self-expression and communication. Instead she utilizes nature and magic as a way of articulating her needs and mood. At one point Faezah discovers Zarin sitting in the desert garden, where it appears she has created hundreds of iridescent flowers to populate the once dry and arid expanse. Such scenes, of which there are admittedly only a few, correlate with Relf’s notion that a women’s utopia functions as a space of rest and positive change. The house, located at the center of the Orchard, undoubtedly facilitates the processes of recuperation. There are several scenes that depict Fakhri nurturing Zarin and Faezah: creating a safe, stable space in which the women can rest and sustain themselves. Importantly, the house also functions as a site of important homosocial bonding, in which the women can collectively sleep, eat and communicate without fear or condemnation. Certainly Fakhri, as a matriarchal and maternal figure, is central in restoring the health and equilibrium to the ailing Zarin and Faezah. But far from representing Fakhri as an idealized mother figure or replacement patriarch, Neshat underscores Fakhri’s own fallibility and vulnerability. Indeed Fakhri’s need for romance and social stimulation, eventually eclipses her desire to nurture her young charges. One morning we see her in the garden cutting some of the abundant flowers that have begun to blossom around the house. Later, she sits down with Zarin and proposes they hold a soiree for her friend in Tehran:

Fakhri: It is such a relief that I don’t have to worry about you. I’ve felt like a mother to you from the moment we found you. I have an idea that I would like to talk to you about.
[Faezah appears]…
You know, it’s incredible. The flowers are out just as Zarin is starting to feel better. Everything seems revived. I think we ought to open the Orchard. Maybe we should have a party.

But Fakhri has misidentified the Orchard and Zarin’s ‘revival’ as a readiness to start the next phase of development: possibly she is imagining the kind of ‘androgynous utopia’ that Relf nominates as the phase following the women-centered utopia. Fakhri believes that lasting recuperation has been achieved and that the women are ready to re-enter and re-engage with the world of Tehran. But as soon as Fakhri voices the notion of ‘opening up’ the Orchard to a broader social sphere, Zarin’s face darkens and she brings her hand anxiously to her mouth. The next scene depicts Zarin once again in the desert garden, making flowers. But this time the flowers are metallic and sharp and the garden has returned to its previous state of dryness and desolation. It is then from Zarin’s point of view that we observe Fakhri and Faezah deliberating over what dresses to wear for the party. Zarin’s perspective is suggested by the use of a swaying hand-held camera, as if she is nervously peering through a window or doorframe. Suddenly, there is a loud cracking sound and a tree plunges through the window and into the house. It has been obvious up to this point that the garden responds to, and mutates in sympathy with, Zarin’s psychological state. As she becomes stabilised and strengthened, the garden flourishes and becomes abundant. As the prospect of the party begins to weigh upon her, the garden retracts into a state of dereliction and emptiness. In fact the next scene depicts Zarin lying on a bed of creepers. She is gazing at the rays of sunlight, which are being cast through the thick canopy of trees.

Munis  (voice over): The light. The air. The quiet. Now the orchard was turning, breaking under this great weight. As if it fell ill. And there was no retreat. No rest any longer.

Zarin then levitates off the ground and begins floating above the green earth. It is as if, with the Orchard ceasing to function as a sanctuary and safe-haven, Zarin must wilfully detach herself from gardens and their source of nourishment. Zarin’s relationship with the Orchard is complicated; at one level she gains strength and solace from the secluded gardens. But the Orchard is not in and of itself a stable, unchanging reserve. It primarily functions as an expression of the women’s psyche and thus transmutes and arranges itself accordingly. When Fakhri proposes to invite her Tehran friends to the Orchard, the brief period of retreat abruptly ends. Not the Orchard, nor the newly recovered women, are robust enough to withstand the influx of painful figures of the past. Neshat herself discussed the very fragile nature of the Orchard even before she had embarked upon production of the film.

Neshat: What is interesting is how this community falls apart. The utopia proves impossible due to the likelihood that every woman contains the flaws she is running away from in the outside world. [14]

Thus the temporary utopia of the Orchard is abandoned and so too the possibility of more hopeful outcomes for the women. If the journey undertaken to the Orchard by Zarin, Faezah and Fakhri symbolises the reterritorialisation of the exile and migrant more broadly, the ‘turning’ and ‘breaking’ of the Orchard signals a loss of optimism regarding the fate of the exile – both at home in Iran and in their new place of residence. In Women Without Men Neshat does not envisage a sustained alternative to the patriarchal oppression of 1953 Tehran. The Orchard is not, as the women may have first imagined, a permanent space of renewal, but an in-between, liminal, temporary shelter. There is to be no lasting asylum even in the mythical space of the Orchard; for after a fleeting period of respite, the exile is once again confronted by marginalisation and death.

The Third Space of Exile
It is not incidental that the destruction of the women’s sanctuary is paralleled with scenes of violence in Tehran against pro-Mossadegh supporters. Neshat purposefully aligns the incursion of Iran by the British-backed CIA (the coup d’état) with the invasion of the Orchard by Tehran’s glitterati. The night of Fakhri’s soiree, the house swarms not only with socialites and intellectuals but also with the men who have haunted and traumatised the women. Amir Khan arrives and seeks out Faezah, proposing that she join his household as a second wife. Abbas appears with his American wife, seemingly oblivious to any possibility of romantic union between Fakhri and himself.  And eventually the military also invade the house, and after some initial threats and interrogation by a sinister General, make themselves comfortable at the party. The influx of these various personalities signals not only the death of the Orchard but also the fall of Prime Minister Mossadegh and the possibility for democratic reform in Iran.

Neshat represents this particular moment in Iranian history through the symbolic event of Fakhri’s soiree. For each of these men represent an equally problematic and entrenched aspect of Iranian patriarchy and Western imperialism. Amir Khan is obviously emblematic of the limitations of conservative and fundamentalist Islam and its inherent chauvinism. Abbas, with his American wife on his arm, is representative of the Shah and his endorsement of Western neo-colonialism and the foreign control of Iran’s resources. With the demise of the Orchard and the Mossadegh government, the women have no choice but to die, return to their former subjugation in Tehran or linger in the liminal, depleted space of the Orchard. Zarin passes away the night of the soiree, Faezah travels the lonely road back to Tehran and the final scene shows Fakhri leaving the house and entering the darker, more sinister space of the forest garden. The bleak conclusion to Women Without Men may seem to indicate that women may only participate in the shaping of Iran’s political and cultural future through the ghostly and supernatural realm of the afterlife. Seemingly Munis is only able to enter the political fray as a communist activist after her decision to suicide, while Zarin’s death is figured as a final act of defiance, or possible hopelessness, at the prospect of her return to Tehran as a sex-worker. But the implication of Neshat’s finale is not necessarily that women may only attain freedom and prominence through the radical acts of death and self-harm. Rather Women Without Men appears to be once again signalling the significance of liminality for the exiled individual and the hardship of residing both outside and ‘in-between’ homelands. For death is not necessarily represented as a literal termination of life in Neshat’s film, but as the entrée into the permanent space of transition. For the exiles of Women Without Men, re-assimilation and integration never truly eventuates, instead they reside eternally on the threshold.

In many ways Neshat’s film is an allegorical account of the hardships of reterritorialisation and the diasporic experience. It explores what it is to be divided between homelands and between cultures. In conversation with Sheryl Mosley, Neshat has said of Women Without Men:

I could be talking to Iranians about Iran, but I am also talking to Americans about America. So what am I? I am a person who is in-between, I am not American and not Iranian, and so the work is also in-between. [15]

Certainly the production values of this film typify what Naficy has termed “interstitial” filmmaking (2001). This is the process whereby the diasporic director undertakes production not necessarily at the margins, but ‘astride’ the cracks in the conventional systems of filmmaking. Thus Naficy writes that they are “situated in the interstices of cultures and film practices” (4). Neshat’s film, while benefitting from a larger budget than most diasporic productions, may be still deemed interstitial because of the way it approaches Iranian history and culture from the outside. Unable to return to Iran to film Women Without Men, Neshat adopts Casablanca as the stand-in for Tehran, not necessary as an attempt to create a mimetic or factual Iran, but to construct an in-between world.

The ‘Iran’ that spectators encounter in Neshat’s film is thus an Iranian, Moroccan and American hybrid; a truly utopian space in the sense that it exists nowhere but the realm of the imaginary, born out of nostalgic longing and loss. Epitomizing the “interstitial” or global nature of the film are the various nationalities of its contributors. Orsi Toth, who plays Zarin, is a Hungarian actress, the cinematography was by the Austrian photographer, Martin Gschlact, while the score was written by Japanese composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto. German, Austrian and French funding bodies financed the film and post-production took place across Europe and America.  The film was then theatrically released in Britain, the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Greece and Hungary. Women Without Men has yet to obtain an official distributor in Iran and is unlikely to in the immediate future, but Neshat happily reported at the time of its theatrical release in the West, that the film already had a strong presence on the Iranian DVD black market. [16]  Neshat was also confident that Iranian audiences would understand the allegorical nature of the film and its political undercurrents.

We have always had to deal with censorship, dictatorships, oppression. Artists have never been free. So for everything we say, you have to read between the lines. The message is hidden in the form of metaphors. People in Iran feel comfortable with this. But in the west you don’t need allegory, you can say what you want. [17]

To return to Neshat’s notion of being an ‘in-between’ filmmaker, Women Without Men is intended to speak to both its Iranian and Western audiences, albeit communicating vastly different messages. While Neshat has spoken about her desire to avoid becoming too didactic, the film is equally critical of Britain and America’s role in impeding Iranian democracy, as it is of Iran’s history of political oppression and tyranny. It uses the events of 1953 not only as a means of foregrounding an important moment of Iranian and American history, but as a way of metaphorically referencing the struggle for greater political freedom in 2009 onwards.

In order to understand Neshat’s ambivalent relationship to both America and Iran, Aphrodite Desiree Navab (2007) argues that you need to appreciate both the “literal and the metaphoric” function of the “third space” inhabited by the diasporic artist. Navab discusses Neshat’s video installation works, which feature facing video installations. In the case of the aforementioned Soliloquy (1999), the spectator stands between two different film projectors: one of which shows images of a young veiled Neshat in the Kurdish town of Mardin in Eastern Turkey and the other which shows Neshat navigating the labyrinthine interior of the World Trade Center. Standing between the opposing projections, the spectator is invited to inhabit the indeterminate and liminal subjectivity of the diasporic experience. Caught between cultures, homeland and identities, Neshat depicts herself in Soliloquy as neither American nor Iranian, but an individual who is permanently dislocated and alienated.  Drawing on the work of Homi Bhabha, Navab argues that this third space is one of “unhomeliness”: a place of “extra-territorial and cross-cultural initiations” (58).  The diasporic subject is not necessarily “homeless”, according to Navab, but their primary identification is with the state of dispossession and estrangement.

Neshat continues to dramatise this third space in Women Without Men, although the emphasis has somewhat shifted from her earlier video installation works. Instead of evoking the betwixt-and-between space of cultural hybridity, she extends the notion of liminality to apply to the nature of reality itself. Both the diegetic Tehran and the Orchard are imbued with the real and the illusory, the located and the psychological. In discussing Neshat’s photographic and installation work Saadi-Nejad (2009) has argued that “…in general Neshat’s world occupies a middle space between myth and reality” (245). The diasporic artist thus allegorizes the experience of the indeterminate and the liminal by not only portraying cultural alienation and “unhomeliness” but by playing directly with notions of the illusory. To return to Foucault’s metaphor of the ‘mirror’, the diasporic artist creates a third space between the actual and the psychological as a means of describing the radical experience of indeterminacy. Foucault describes this space as a ‘virtual’ one but in Neshat’s work, it operates poetically. While it is constructed and artificial, Neshat’s work draws on ritual and allegory as a means of extending and complicating the metaphor of liminality.

Neshat’s film is based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel, Women Without Men (1989). Like Neshat, Parsipur studied abroad, reading Chinese at the Sorbonne, before returning to Iran in 1980. Parsipur was imprisoned between 1982 and 1986 and although she was never formally charged, she still believes her imprisonment was related to the political work of her brother. After her release Parispur had her fictional work banned in Iran. She eventually migrated permanently to the United Stated in the 1990s, where she has had several works published. While Neshat heavily modifies the narrative of Parsipur’s text (Parsipur’s novel, for instance, has five protagonists, not four), she maintained Parsipur’s central emphasis on the importance of women’s autonomy. The fact that the final scene depicts Fakhri’s resigned entrée into the unstable and unknown territory of the ‘forest garden’ thus not only emblamatises Neshat’s diasporic dislocation, but that of Parsipur’s, and exiled communities in general. Adopting magical realism as a dominant aesthetic mode allows both Neshat and Parsipur to create new women-centered narratives. History is represented not as an objective meta-narrative but as a mutable reality influenced by ancient mythology, fantasy and folklore. The fantastical and the mundane coalesce in their works in order to create new realities that are both utopian and sinister. Magical realism may also be theorised as a form of political discourse, allowing the author to critique political structures, such as patriarchy and colonialism, while simultaneously imagining alternate and more agentic realities. Certainly in Parsipur’s novel, Zarin isn’t killed off at the soiree, but instead is able to transcend the hardships of ‘reality’ by magically merging with her lover, the gardener, and metaphorphosizing into a tree. But Neshat refuses to adopt magical realism at the conclusion of her work as a means of envisaging more hopeful and optimistic outcomes for her protagonists. Instead she firmly resigns them to the territory of the liminal, leaving them in the indeterminate and often frightening space of ‘unhomeliness.’ With the fall of the Orchard and the Mossadegh government, Neshat’s narrative reverts to an unambiguous tone of exilic loss and ambivalence. Unable to sustain a utopian framework, even in the poetic ‘third’ or ‘mirror’ space of story-telling, Neshat’s conclusion seems to be a damning appraisal of both Iran’s political history and its cultural future. Dedicated to all those who participated and lost lives in the Green Movement of 2009, Neshat’s Women Without Men is as much about the current oppressive conditions perpetuated by the Ahmadinejad government, as it is about the fall of Prime Minister Mossadegh.

The making of Women Without Men has played an important role, however, in the politicization of Neshat as a diasporic artist. Previously eager to distance herself from the label of activist or agitator [18] , the events surrounding the questionable re-election of President Ahmadinejad in 2009 forced Neshat to re-think her position. Like Munis, who makes the literal and figurative leap into the liminal space of the ‘in-between’, but who is then able rise from the dead to commence her part in the nationalist movement, so too Neshat’s role as a feature film-maker has taken her from the conceptual sphere of her installation works into new political territory. Neshat has remarked that she is no longer content to have her work speak for itself [19], she now must openly communicate her support for grass-roots activism in Iran and the mass demonstrations for democracy. Thus while Neshat may perceive herself perpetually on the periphery, exiled and nostalgic, with such an ‘in-between’ position comes certain privileges and freedoms. Neshat’s work may always be poetically orientated and inscribed with allegory, but as a diasporic artist she also has the opportunity to imbue her work with both political and deeply personal overtones.


Works Cited:

Nigel Andrews, ‘It’s a Love-hate Relationship…’ [Review], Financial Times, June 10, 2010. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/77276d20-73de-11df-87f5 00144feabdc0.html#axzz2KpPFMYjy

Bill Ashcroft, ‘Transnation’, in Janet Wilson, Cristina Sandru and Sarah Lawson Welsh (eds). Re-routing the Postcolonial: New Directions for the New Millenium London: Routledge, 2010, pp. 72-85.

Peter Aspden, ‘Shirin Neshat’s Filmmaking Debut’, Financial Times, May 21, 2010.

Tamas Benyei, ‘Rereading Magical Realism’, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, 3.1, 1997, pp. 149 – 179.

Haim Bresheeth, ‘Shirin Neshat’s Women Without Men’ [Review], Third Text 24.6, 2010, pp. 754 – 758.

Roger G. Denson, ‘Shirin Neshat: Artist of the Decade’, Huffington Post, 2 November 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/g-roger-denson/sherin-neshat-artist-of-t_b_802050.html

Michel Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces’, Diacritics 16, Spring 1986, pp. 22-27.

Ernest Hardy, ‘Women Without Men’ [Review], The Village Voice; May 18, 2010, pp. 44.

Stephen M. Hart, ‘Cultural Hybridity, Magical Realism and the Language of Magic in Paulo Coehlho’s The Alchemist’, Romance Quarterly, 51.4, Fall: 2004, pp. 304 – 312.

Stephen Holden, ‘In 1953, Sisterhood Sought During a Coup’ [Review], New York Times, 13 May 2010, C8.

Fredric Jameson, ‘On Magic Realism in Film’, Critical Inquiry 12.2, Winter 1986, pp. 301 – 325.

Sarah Kerr, ‘Iran’s Hidden Turmoil: Shrin Neshat’s Women Without Men’ [Review], New York Review of Books, 14 May 2010. http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/may/14/women-without-men/

Homa Khaleeli, ‘Shirin Neshat: A Long Way From Home’ [Review],
The Guardian, 13 June 2010, pp. 22.

Nassar Momayesi, ‘Iran’s Struggle for Democracy’, International Journal on World Peace, 17.4, December 2000, pp. 41 – 70.

Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Aphrodite Desiree Navab ,‘Unsaying Life Stories: The Self-Representational Art of Shirin Neshat and Ghazal’, Journal of Aesthetic Education, 41. 2, Summer 2007, pp. 39-66.

Shirn Neshat, ‘Between Two Worlds: An Interview with Shirin Neshat’, Interview by Scot MacDonald, Feminist Studies, 30.3, Fall 2004, pp. 620 – 659.

Shirn Neshat, ‘Ladies Room: Shirin Neshat’, Interview by Christine Estima,  Bitch Magazine: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, 48, October 2010, p. 14.

Shirn Neshat, ‘Interview with Shirin Neshat’, Interview by Ailsa Ferria”, Artificial Eye, 2010.

Shahrnush Parsipur, Women Without Men, Talattof, Kaman & Sharlet, Jocelyn (trans), Feminist Press: New York, 1989.

Jan Relf, ‘Women in Retreat: the Politics of Separatism in Women’s Literary Utopias’, Utopian Studies, 2. 1. / 2, 1991, pp. 131-146.

Jonathan Romney, ‘Women Without Men’ [Review], The Independent, June 13 2010. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/women-without-men-shirin-neshat-99-mins-15-1998840.htm

Moyara de Moraes Ruehsen, ‘Operation ‘Ajax’ Revisited: Iran, 1953’, Middle Eastern Studies. 29. 3, July 1993, pp. 467-486.

Manya Saadi-Nejad, ‘Mythological Themes in Iranian Culture and Art: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives’, Iranian Studies, 42.2. April 2009, pp. 231 -246.

Scott Simpkins, ‘Magical Strategies: The Supplement of Realism’, Twentieth Century Literature 34.2, Summer 1988, pp. 140 – 154.

Carina Yervasi, ‘Ouaga Saga, Magical Realism and Postcolonial Politics’, Research in African Literatures 39.4, Winter 2008, pp. 40 – 57.


[1] Shirin Neshat, ‘Between Two Worlds: An Interview with Shirin Neshat’, Interview by Scot MacDonald, Feminist Studies, 30.3, Fall 2004, pp. 620 – 659.
Shirin Neshat, ‘Ladies Room: Shirin Neshat’, Interview by Christine Estima,
Bitch Magazine: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, 48, October 2010, p. 14.
Haim Bresheeth, ‘Shirin Neshat’s Women Without Men’ [Review], Third Text 24.6, 2010, pp. 754 – 758.
[2] Neshat 2004.
[3] Neshat, quoted Khaleeli, Homa 2010, “Shirin Neshat: A Long Way From Home’ [Review], The Guardian, Sunday 13 June, p. 22.
[4] Ernest Hardy, ‘Women Without Men’ [Review], The Village Voice; May 18, 2010, p. 44.Stephen Holden, ‘In 1953, Sisterhood Sought During a Coup’ [Review], New York Times, 13 May 2010: C8.
Sarah Kerr, ‘Iran’s Hidden Turmoil: Shrin Neshat’s Women Without Men’     http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/may/14/women-without-men/
Khaleeli, Homa, “Shirin Neshat: A Long Way Frome Home” [Review], The Guardian, Sunday 13 June, 2010, p. 22.
[5] Nigel Andrews, ‘It’s a Love-hate Relationship…’ [Review], Financial Times, June 10, 2010. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/77276d20-73de-11df-87f5 00144feabdc0.html#axzz2KpPFMYjy
[6] Jonathan Romney, ‘Women Without Men’ [Review], The Independent, June 13, 2010.
[7] Neshat 2010.
[8] Nassar Momayesi, ‘Iran’s Struggle for Democracy’, International Journal on World Peace, 17.4, December 2000, pp. 41 – 70.
[9] Moyara deMoraes Ruehsen, ‘Operation ‘Ajax’ Revisited: Iran, 1953’, Middle Eastern Studies. 29. 3, July 1993, pp. 467-486.
[10] Fredric Jameson, ‘On Magic Realism in Film”, Critical Inquiry 12.2, Winter 1986, pp. 301 – 325.
Scott Simpkins, ‘Magical Strategies: The Supplement of Realism”, Twentieth Century Literature 34.2, Summer 1988, pp. 140 – 154.
Tamas Benyei, ‘Rereading Magical Realism’, Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies, 3.1, 1997, pp. 149 – 179.
Stephen M. Hart, ‘Cultural Hybridity, Magical Realism and the Language of Magic in Paulo Coehlho’s The Alchemist’, Romance Quarterly, 51.4, Fall: 2004, 304 – 312.
Carina Yervasi, ‘Ouaga Saga, Magical Realism and Postcolonial Politics’, Research in African Literatures 39.4, Winter 2008, pp. 40 – 57.
[11] Shirin Neshat, ‘Interview with Shirin Neshat’, by Ailsa Ferria, Artificial Eye, Video Recording, 2010.
[12] Michel Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces”, Diacritics 16, Spring 1986, pp. 22-27.
[13] Interestingly in Parsipur’s novella, Women Without Men, 1990, Zarrin marries the Gardener and the two characters die together in a kind of transformative ritual in which they merge with nature.
[14] Neshat 2004.
[15] Neshat, quoted in Bresheeth 2010.
[16] Khaleeli 2010.
[17] Neshat, quoted in Peter Aspden, ‘Shirin Neshat’s Filmmaking Debut”’, Financial Times, May 21, 2010.
[18] Khaleeli 2010.
[19] Khaleeli 2010.

About the Author

Rosa Holman

About the Author

Rosa Holman

Rosa Holman is in the final year of her Ph.D candidature at the University of New South Wales. Her current research focuses on Iranian women’s cinema and issues of identity, authorship and voice. Previous scholarship on Iranian cinema and poeticism has been published in Senses of Cinema and she has also contributed to the up-and-coming Directory of World Cinema, Iran, Volume II.View all posts by Rosa Holman →