Revolutions through the Eyes of Shirin Neshat

Today’s post presents the winner of the Association for Art History’s Undergraduate Dissertation Prize (2019). Giorgia Maffioli Brigatti was awarded the title with her work on the oeuvre of Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, “Revolutions through the Eyes”.

I had the pleasure of meeting Giorgia during my time as an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge. Both of us were young students from Northern Italy and she grew to become one of the most promising young scholars in a field, that of Persian and Islamic art, that is often somewhat neglected in art history curricula. Shirin Neshat herself is an artist that makes great use of historical sources, weaving the visual and literary history of Iran in her photographs and videos, in a process of historical integration that makes sense of the long and recently turbulent history of her home country.

I reached out to Giorgia, who is currently studying for a master’s degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art, to ask for comments about her dissertation, its inception and success. Here’s her response:

I have been asked by my great fellow art historian and dear friend Alessandro, to write about how I came up with the idea of writing my final dissertation on Shirin Neshat. I have to say that an encounter, more than anything else, sparkled my interest in her work.

I was blessed to read a course on ‘Collecting Islamic Art’ during my second year at Cambridge, with Dr Deniz Türker. Apart from Deniz, I was also supervised by Naciem Nikkhah, at the time a PhD student. She started one of our supervisions, on a wintry March afternoon, with a mysterious and evocative photograph by Shirin Neshat. A woman’s hand softly touches her lips, with some beautiful calligraphic writings on it. While the intimacy of the actpresupposed an opening up of the interiority of the subject, her identity remained concealed, as the photographic cut stopped just below her nose, leaving her eyes outside the picture plane. Her aesthetic use of black and white, the Persian writing on the hand and the mystery of this photograph stroked me profoundly.

I stated researching about the artist and her oeuvre, but hardly I could find information on her writing. I became so entangled withthis subject that I was not able to push it away from my head. I finally discovered, handing in my dissertation – more than a year later – that a mystery will always remain a mystery, to some extent. 

I wish to thank again all the people who journeyed with me throughout this research and who helped me when I was stuck. I encountered and met truly amazing people in times of need and in times of creativity, thank you to you all and to God.

You may read Giorgia’s work in full through the Association for Art History’s website.

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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