She has not been back to Iran since 1996. Though she isn’t barred from the country, Neshat just doesn’t feel comfortable or safe going back. But she points out wryly, “I don’t have any interest to be drawn into political discussion, the work speaks for itself as to which camp I belong!” and indeed Neshat did take part in a three-day hunger protest against the Iranian election in 2009, supporting the Green Revolution. “Iranians have survived through the power of their poetry,” adding emphatically, “it’s not just poetry, we, as Iranians, have relied on the subversive qualities of poetic language to defend ourselves.”
As for her next project, Neshat is busy studying Egyptian history from the 1920s, ’50s and ’70s, the three periods in which her movie about singer Oum Kolthum is set. I ask her if she feels like a veteran after already making a feature, “I’ve learned a lot, making Women Without Men was like going to university for cinema.” But there were some new revelations, especially studying vintage Egyptian hair and makeup: “I absolutely love this part of it—it was new to me as a visual artist.” She will move to Cairo in June, and start shooting the film in October.
Living in New York since 1983, Neshat is no stranger to the nomadic life. She has moved nearly eight times around Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Noho, Soho, you name it. She’s become very attached to New York; “It is my Tehran,” she states flatly. “I knew New York when it was really bohemian, and my identity as an artist is a part of the fabric of this city.” A shadow does cross her face momentarily when we chat about the fantastic New York spring so far, “It’s been a long time since I felt the spring in Iran. What makes me the most nostalgic is when I remember being on my father’s farm in Qazvin, when everything went into blossom, the fragrance of all the cherry blossoms, apples, pears and peaches.” But she adds mischievously, “Although, my mother said it was snowing there yesterday.”