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Shirin Neshat shows new work at Rauschenberg Foundation’s Project Space

— February 2014

Associated media

Shirin Neshat, Wafaa (2013)

Proceeds from the sale of a limited-edition print to support human rights organization in Egypt

The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation announced today the selection of Shirin Neshat for its new One-to-One artist initiative that supports contemporary artists as they create artwork in the service of advancing human rights, cultural understanding, and international peacekeeping. The foundation will exhibit new work by Neshat at the Rauschenberg Project Space, located at 455 West 19th Street, from January 31 through March 1, 2014.

Following her recent photographic series ‘The Book of Kings’ (2012), which captured the spirit of activism across the Middle East during the Arab Spring, Neshat was commissioned by the Rauschenberg Foundation to create a new body of work. As a reflection on the aftermath of the failed revolution in Egypt, Neshat conceived of a new series of photographs and prepared to travel to Cairo. In advance of the trip, however, her longtime collaborator, photographer Larry Barns, experienced the tragic and unexpected death of his daughter. Barns’ grief, coupled with the profound sense of loss in a country rife with unrest, inspired Neshat to use this new project to investigate the universal experience of pain and mourning on both a personal and national level.

In Egypt, Neshat invited several individuals to share their stories before her camera, culminating in a series titled ‘Our House Is on Fire’. Depicting her subjects up close and with a notable directness, Neshat captures the intensity of each individual’s gaze, creating a poignant connection between the subject and viewer. Neshat then overlays the images with a nearly indecipherable veil of text, inscribing calligraphy across the creases and folds of the subjects’ faces, thereby mirroring the way in which national calamity has become embedded in and inseparable from their personal histories. Taken as a whole this body of work compels the viewer to acknowledge the toll of political and social upheaval that results when people deny humanity to those whom they perceive as the ‘other’.

This human exchange and sharing of emotions between me, the subjects, and Barns is among the most important and moving experience I have had while making art, and it was a unique moment when the boundary between art and life suddenly seemed entirely blurred. I am extremely grateful to the Rauschenberg Foundation for selecting me for the One-to-One initiative and for supporting the creation of this new series of photographs.

One-to-One builds on Robert Rauschenberg’s  career-long interest in using his art, often in the form of prints, to raise awareness and provide philanthropic support for the social causes that were most important to him. His art expands the dialogue on wide-ranging issues, such as apartheid, nuclear disarmament, economic development, and artists' rights.

 I feel strong in my beliefs, based on my varied and widely traveled collaborations, that a one-to-one contact through art contains potent peaceful powers and is the most non-elitist way to share exotic and common information, seducing us intocreative mutual understandings for the benefit of all. —Robert Rauschenberg, Excerpt from the ‘Tobago Statement’, October 22, 1984

Rauschenberg’s sense of responsibility as a ‘citizen of the world’ culminated in the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI), a seven-year project that the artist initiated in 1984 and funded wholly to create artwork in ten politically repressed countries. His objective was to use art to engage people, to initiate cross-border communication, and to promote peacekeeping. ROCI has remained an inspiration for artists to this day.

 ‘Through the One-to-One initiativethe foundation extends Rauschenberg’s legacy of creating artwork that enhances the understanding of the human experience, said Christy MacLear, executive director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation:

Shirin’s new work – these exquisite portraits of loss – provides a universal language for an experience that every person will recognize, no matter where we live, no matter what we believe, no matter the differences that seem to divide us. ‘Our House Is on Fire’ reminds us of our shared humanity, and we are so pleased to work with Shirin and to support this new body of work.

Two limited-edition prints from the series will be sold through Artspace, with proceeds going to benefit an organization of Neshat’s choosing focused on strengthening human rights in Egypt.

Shirin Neshat

Iranian-born artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat has had numerous solo exhibitions at galleries and museums worldwide, including the Detroit Institute of Arts; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; the Serpentine Gallery, London; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. She is the recipient of various awards, such as the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale (1999), the Hiroshima Freedom Prize (2005), and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2006). In 2009, Neshat directed her first feature-length film, Women Without Men, which received the Silver Lion for Best Direction at the Venice International Film Festival. Declared Artist of the Decade in 2010 by The Huffington Post, Neshat is represented by Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.  

TheRobert Rauschenberg Foundation:

The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation fosters the legacy of the artist’s life, work, and philosophy, including the belief that art can change the world. The foundation supports initiatives at the intersection of arts and issues that embody the fearlessness, innovation, and multidisciplinary approach that Rauschenberg exemplified in both his art and philanthropic endeavors. Most recently, the foundation has broadened its philanthropic efforts from seven legacy grantees to ninety-five grantees across the United States; supported hundreds of artists who suffered the impact of Hurricane Sandy; and converted Rauschenberg’s home and studio in Florida into a dynamic residency programme for emerging and recognized artists.

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