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Shirin Neshat on telling complex stories through art – CNN



Written by Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat is an internationally acclaimed visual artist working primarily in photography, film and video. All opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Her newest show, “Land of Dreams,” is exhibiting at the Gladstone Gallery in New York through February 27, 2021. An accompanying online show can be seen here.

In my artworks I approach beauty as a way to escape the mundane. Beauty isn’t just the physicality of my characters, but their raw emotions, dignity and humanity.

As an Iranian, I was born into a culture that is deeply rooted in poetry and mysticism, where beauty means a heightened sense of emotions and spirituality — it’s a way to cope with the hardship and ugliness of tyranny and everyday life. From childhood, I have been surrounded by Persian and Islamic art, architecture, poetry and music where my eyes and ears were trained to see everything in the form of a duality: hope in despair, joy in melancholy, order in chaos, perfection in imperfection, mortality in immortality.

“Rebellious Silence” (1994) from the series “Women of Allah” showed the duality of poetry and sensuality with violence and repression. Credit: Shirin Neshat/Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

As for myself, I have lived a rather challenging life in self-imposed exile since I was a young adult, leaving my native country just before the upheaval of the Iranian Revolution. But despite my sorrows I’ve been a survivor, and feel blessed by many unexpected gifts in my life. I feel as if my art has also taken my nomadic and dualistic nature where everything seems to be conceived around the idea of opposites.

In my earliest body of work, a photographic series made in the 1990s titled “Women of Allah,” I made some provocative and rather controversial self-portraits embodying the role of a martyr. I wore the hijab, armed myself with weapons and had my body inscribed with poetry. At the time, I was interested in understanding the concept of martyrdom, which had become popular and even institutionalized by the Iranian government during the Islamic revolution. I was fascinated by that peculiar intersection of love, faith and devotion along with an obsession with violence, cruelty and ultimately death. What was even more perplexing for me was how many Iranian women voluntarily became militant at the time.

In "Women of Allah," Neshat included poems by Iranian poets Tahereh Saffarzadeh and Forough Farokhzad.

In “Women of Allah,” Neshat included poems by Iranian poets Tahereh Saffarzadeh and Forough Farokhzad. Credit: Shirin Neshat/Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

The images from “Women of Allah” carried many paradoxical symbols: the female body as the sensual, even erotic element; the weapon an obvious representation of violence; the veil as a form of repression yet to many an expression of conviction to one’s faith; and finally the text, which was poetry written by women, and suggested the notion of a voice. At the end “Women of Allah” became a highly aesthetized, beautiful yet disturbing group of images.

Last year, The Broad in Los Angeles held a major retrospective of my photographic and film work created over the past three decades. It was interesting for me to detect various parallels between my earliest and latest body of work, and how they shared similar visual and symbolic values. If the “Women of Allah” series became a fictionalized narrative about the Iranian revolution from a self-exiled artist, the later work, “Land of Dreams,” offered my perspective as Iranian immigrant about the changing American society in the Trump era.

"Alfonso Garundo" from "Land of Dreams" (2019). Neshat traveled around New Mexico collecting the dreams and nightmares of different residents.

“Alfonso Garundo” from “Land of Dreams” (2019). Neshat traveled around New Mexico collecting the dreams and nightmares of different residents.
Credit: Shirin Neshat/Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

“Land of Dreams,” which opened at the Gladstone Gallery in New York earlier this year includes videos and over 100 photographs capturing portraits of Americans living in the country’s Southwest, from different ethnic and economic backgrounds.

In one of the videos, a young, exiled Iranian woman disguised as an art student goes door to door asking to take local residents’ portraits as well as collect their dreams. She then returns to a mysterious Iranian colony, tucked away inside a mountain, where many Iranian men and women analyze the dreams she has received.

"Raven Brewer-Beltz" from "Land of Dreams" (2019). In the video portion of the project, which examines the conflict between Iran and US in an absurdist light, Iranian officials try to decode the dreams of Americans.

“Raven Brewer-Beltz” from “Land of Dreams” (2019). In the video portion of the project, which examines the conflict between Iran and US in an absurdist light, Iranian officials try to decode the dreams of Americans.
Credit: Shirin Neshat/Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Through this surrealistic and satirical narrative, we not only delve into the absurd, long-standing conflict between Iran and the US, but the fine boundary between the realms of dream and reality, and the shared human experiences that defy cultural boundaries.

As for the portraits, I personally traveled through the state of New Mexico photographing and collecting accounts of dreams from diverse communities of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans and Anglo Americans. Later the translations and interpretations of these characters’ dreams were inscribed on their images in Farsi calligraphy. I’ve always returned to calligraphy because its visual impact transcends translation. Each mark represents an idea of beauty and spirituality which contradicts political inflammation.

"Marie Overstreet" from "Land of Dreams" (2019). "I believe the work is unique in the way that it shows a nomadic person whose gaze is always navigating between cultures that she doesn't completely belong to anymore," Neshat writes.

“Marie Overstreet” from “Land of Dreams” (2019). “I believe the work is unique in the way that it shows a nomadic person whose gaze is always navigating between cultures that she doesn’t completely belong to anymore,” Neshat writes. Credit: Shirin Neshat/Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Though Western audiences may not be able to read the calligraphy inscribed in these images, nor recognize the music in my films, the beauty of human dignity is universal. In the portraits, I wanted to show the power of the individual. Every single person looks monumental. Confronted with these works, I hope viewers are reminded, as is the Iranian protagonist of my video, that we each contain dualities, and we all have the same desires and anxieties. We all deal with the same existential fears.

I believe the work is unique in the way that it shows a nomadic perspective, the gaze of an artist who is always navigating between cultures that she doesn’t completely belong to anymore. But in doing so, she finds that she’s not alone. “Land of Dreams” isn’t meant to be a critique of power or any particular administration, but a hand extended to see how others dream.

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What are NFTs? Cryptocurrency technology is driving new digital art craze – CTV News



A new craze is sweeping through the art world, but it’s of solely digital work.

Using blockchain technology — which is what underpins cryptocurrency transactions like Bitcoin — to authenticate who owns the pieces, digital assets known as “non-fungible tokens,” or NFTs, are selling for millions.

An NFT is a singular, one-of-a-kind digital token that cannot be interchanged with other tokens – which makes them optimal for buying and selling art or other collectibles as they accrue value independently.

NFTs give a digital certificate of ownership to buyers to prove authentication of both the work and the purchase, but does not give buyers the original file or copyright – which is why NFTs have been labeled as a “bragging rights” purchase.

Canadian Trevor Jones, who lives in Scotland, sold more than $3 million worth of digitally-authenticated versions of his painting “Bitcoin Angel” in just seven minutes.

“It’s crazy how fast this space is moving,” Jones told CTV News. “This is the first time in history that an artist could monetize digital pieces.”

A version of the “nyan cat meme,” where a pixelated cat with the body of a Poptart flies over a rainbow, sold for US$590,000 at auction, and a 10-second video clip by digital artist “Beeple” sold for US$6.6 million.

Canadian musician Grimes recently sold US$6 million dollars worth of NFTs as well.

Even the NBA is getting in on the action – with the biggest transaction to date on Feb. 22, when a user paid US$208,000 for a video of a LeBron James slam dunk.

Auction house Christie’s has recently moved into the digital space, offering a new Beeple piece on the block. NFTs have surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as more and more people purchase items digitally due to lockdowns and stay at home orders.

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Smithers Art Gallery to feature new exhibit – My Bulkley Lakes Now



A new exhibit is being featured at the Smithers Art Gallery.

“Arterial” by Fantastic 5point0 consists of artwork from five artists along the Highway 16 corridor.

The exhibit features Lynn Cociani of Prince Rurpert, Michelle Gazely of Smithers, Mo Hamilton of Prince George, Suzo Hickey of Prince Rupert and Sarah Northcott of Smithers.

According to one of the artists Michelle Gazely, the exhibit is about the connection each of the artists have and the connection of Highway 16 to each other.

Gazely said it was an incredible experience working with different artists.

“It was so wonderful to work with people who are serious about art, to talk art, to connect, it was just an excellent experience,” she said.

She added the group of artists met a few years ago after attending an art retreat.

According to Gazely, after the retreat they would see each other twice a year and live with each other for one week to try and bounce ideas for the exhibit off of each other.

She also said she feels proud showing her artwork to her home community.

“There’s a mutual respect and love that the five of us ladies have for each other, so I feel so proud of the work that we’ve done together, it’s like an eclectic mix,” Gazely said.

She added visitors of the gallery have been enjoying the diversity of the exhibit.

Arterial will be at the Smithers Art Gallery until April 3.

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‘We are really going somewhere’: Qaumajuq Inuit art centre opening this month at the Winnipeg Art Gallery – The Globe and Mail



Qaumajuq is the first of its kind in the world – a unique sharing space where Inuit voices are front and centre.

Lindsay Reid/Winnipeg Art Gallery

In a Prairie city, 2,000 kilometres from Iqaluit, Canada is building a monument to Inuit culture: Qaumajuq, the new Inuit art centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, opens to the public March 27. It will house the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world, with examples from all four regions of the Nunangat – the Inuit homeland in Canada – as well as work from other circumpolar territories; the planning has involved Inuit curators, artists and elders from the start. And yet Qaumajuq sits on the Métis homeland and traditional territories of the Cree, Dene and Dakota, a place of tall grasses and big rivers far distant from the blue ice and sharp peaks of the Nunangat.

Why Winnipeg?

“We get that question a lot,” WAG director Stephen Borys says.

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Truth is, Winnipeg has always been a cultural crossroads. With a colonial history as a fort, a Hudson’s Bay depot and a medical centre, it is the place where East meets West and the South goes North. In the 1950s, it was already a city where a Viennese art historian could start the WAG collection by buying Inuit carvings at the Bay. Today, it’s the place where the first Inuk with a PhD in art history can help launch a unique collaboration between the gallery, the government of Nunavut, the First Nations of Manitoba and the people of the North.

“Museums came out of a history of the Western [way of] knowing, documenting, classifying and colonializing: Museums were places to hold knowledge of other cultures,” said curator Heather Igloliorte, the Labrador Inuk and Concordia University art historian who advised the WAG. “It’s a lot of work to unpack how institutions function in the present. I am very proud of the work we are doing and grateful to everyone at the WAG. … We are really going somewhere.”

South-facing view of Visible Vault at Qaumajuq, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture and associate Cibinel Architecture.

Lindsay Reid/Winnipeg Art Gallery

One of the reasons this is happening at the WAG is because the institution has a long commitment to collecting Inuit art created after 1949. It began buying seriously in the 1950s long before other Canadian public galleries, which tended to view the carvings and prints as ethnographic material best left to what was then called the Museum of Man in Ottawa. This origin story is a funny one: Ferdinand Eckhardt, the Austrian lured to Winnipeg to lead WAG in 1953, first saw Inuit sculpture in the gift shop at the Bay, located just across the street from the gallery. Why, he wondered, wasn’t his institution collecting this unique Northern art form?

The collection grew rapidly, regularly enhanced by donations from local collectors encouraged by Eckhardt’s interest, but also including several pieces he actually purchased from the Bay. By 2008, when Borys arrived on the scene, the WAG had amassed more than 13,000 works, both sculptures and prints, including many of the most recognized Cape Dorset images such as Kenojuak Ashevak’s The Enchanted Owl. (Only the archive of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative of Cape Dorset has more items, while the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa has a larger collection of archeological material.) Meanwhile, the WAG has continued to acquire the increasingly non-traditional and unconventional work produced by contemporary Inuit artists.

Jesse Tungilik’s sealskin and beads spacesuit (2019), a collection of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) Indigenous Art Centre.

Jessica Kotierk/Winnipeg Art Gallery

With that scale of collection, overseen by curator Darlene Coward Wight, the WAG became an obvious partner for Nunavut after the establishment of the new territory in 1999. The Nunavut archives hold a collection of more than 7,000 works, all kept in storage awaiting the day when the territory can finally build an art centre of its own. In the meantime, it has lent the material to Winnipeg, where many pieces will go on public display for the very first time and will also be digitized for remote access.

Physically, many of the sculptures will be housed in the three-storey-high open vault that is the centrepiece of Qaumajuq and the new building designed by Los Angeles architect Michael Maltzan. It’s a tower of glass shelving that brings 4,500 carvings into the light, profiting from stone’s immunity to UV damage. It can be seen from the street through the glass façade that makes up the lower half of the building; the curving upper portion, clad in white granite, echoes the shape of an iceberg, and the whole wing tucks up alongside the blunt end of the modernist triangle that is the original WAG building. At night, the vault will shine like a lantern and at any time of day it stands as a symbol of the new institution’s transparency. Qaumujuq means “it is bright,” or “it is lit,” in Inuktitut.

Before Maltzan came on board, the WAG had already established an Indigenous advisory circle co-chaired by Igloliorte, who grew up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.: Her father’s family hails from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit territory in Labrador, while her mother is a white Newfoundlander. The advisory circle has stressed several areas in which the WAG could decolonize as it built Qaumajuq; the most obvious is the use of Inuktitut and First Nations names for all the galleries, chosen by a group of 14 elders and language keepers. The front lobby and vault are called Ilavut, meaning “our relatives,” recognizing both the artists and the artworks as spiritual predecessors.

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“It’s not just lip service but making Indigenous language part of the institution,” Igloliorte said, stressing that Inuktitut names, rather than generic English descriptors, were being used by gallery staff. “What’s unique about this advisory circle was it was formed before ground was broken. … The WAG was willing to give up some power and authority to Indigenous people.”

The circle also recommended there be an Indigenous member of the WAG executive – she is Julia Lafreniere, head of Indigenous initiatives, who is Métis – and more Indigenous participation in the education department. (The nearby Canadian Museum for Human Rights got in trouble last year after it was discovered that non-Indigenous docents were telling First Nations stories to visitors.)

Left to right: Nicole Luke and Jocelyn Piirainen. Physical visitors will also be able to tour Inua, the centre’s inaugural exhibition.

Calvin Lee Joseph/Winnipeg Art Gallery

Part of Lafreniere’s job is to figure out what Qaumajuq means to the Indigenous community on Treaty One, the 1871 agreement covering southern Manitoba, a territory that is home to five First Nations and the Métis.

“It’s really important that we are praying for the artwork and welcoming it to this territory; welcoming Inuit knowledge to this territory,” Lafreniere said, adding there were many similar traditions among Indigenous peoples but that Inuit geography was very different. She pointed to the figure of Sedna, the goddess of the sea who features in Inuit creation myths and visual art, as an example of a maritime culture quite foreign to First Nations in Manitoba. Blending the various cultures, Lafreniere has been organizing a series of opening ceremonies, some virtual, some outdoor, relying on Inuit and First Nations elders for appropriate prayers, songs and dances. Until the pandemic is clear, the only Inuit who can visit Qaumajuq are the few who live in Winnipeg already or who have come south for medical care, but the WAG is offering free admission to all Indigenous people on March 22.

“My favourite thing is to bring Inuit people into the building and see their faces light up,” she said.

Physical visitors will also be able to tour Inua, the centre’s inaugural exhibition. It’s another exercise in inclusion, organized by four curators from each region of the Nunangat. From east to west, Igloliorte comes from Nunatsiavut, Asinnajaq is an artist from Nunavik in Northern Quebec; Krista Ulujuk Zawadski is the curator of Inuit art for the government of Nunavut, and Kablusiak, an Inuk artist from the West now based in Calgary, was shortlisted for the Sobey Award in 2019.

The show they have put together, featuring 100 works by artists from across the circumpolar region, includes some Inuit art from the 1960s and 1970s, but also some highly contemporary examples, including Jesse Tungilik’s sealskin spacesuit and two works by Eldred Allen, a Labrador photographer who stitches together multiple drone photos to create digitally altered landscapes.

“We want to surprise people and say how you are thinking about Inuit art is not the only way to think about Inuit art,” Igloliorte said.

The four have also included an ancestor display where each presents a work by a forbearer, recognizing the way Inuit art is often created by artistic dynasties. Igloliorte has included a caribou skin purse sewn by her grandmother, the seamstress Susannah Igloliorte.

Photo by Labrador photographer Eldred Allen, who stitches together multiple drone photos to create digitally altered landscapes.

Winnipeg Art Gallery

The bold contemporary works, many specially commissioned for the opening, will provide a powerful contrast to Ilavut, the open vault that features many of the stone carvings on loan from Nunavut.

How long will they stay there, thousands of kilometres away from home? The WAG has renewed a five-year loan agreement with Nunavut to 2025, but “I will be the first to send it back as soon as they want it,” Borys said. “It’s a wheel, and we are not the hub, but a spoke.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the Inuit art centre Qaumajuq.

Qaumajuq, the new Inuit art centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, opens to the public March 27 with a limited number of free timed tickets that day. The virtual opening celebrations take place March 25 and March 26 at 6:30 p.m. CST, and can be viewed at

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