Shirin Neshat: The Book of Kings (Series)


Shirin Neshat’s large photo series "The Book of Kings" is inspired by the 60,000-verse poem "Shahnameh" (The Book of Kings) from the eleventh century by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, today still the great narrative of Persian history up to the Islamic conquest of Persia in the seventh century. Shirin Neshat relates this ancient book to the Arab Spring and to the Iranian Green Movement, which brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets all over Iran in June 2009 in protest against the regime.


"The Book of Kings" consists of three series of large black-and-white portraits: "Masses", "Patriots" and "Villains". Each photograph is carefully inscribed with handwritten poems in Farsi from present-day Iranian poets. "Masses" is portraits of the many ordinary citizens who demonstrated in the streets. The bodies in "Villains" are decorated with the old narrative pictures from the "Shahnameh" of soldiers on horseback. The red colour recurs throughout as a symbol of the blood of the martyrs. The "Patriots" stare earnestly and directly into the camera with their hands on their hearts. Gazing straight ahead. But who in fact are the patriots? Are they those who are trying to change the system, or those who support the present regime?


Neshat offers no answer to who will be the martyrs, patriots or villains for posterity. She captures their expressionless faces, as if there is still a history to be written. They look at us and we at them, and in this way Neshat combines complex questions of history, politics and philosophy in a confrontational, poetic visual language.


Shirin Neshat was born in 1957 in Iran. She has lived in exile in New York since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Because of her art, Shirin Neshat is "persona non grata" in Iran.