See how Shirin Neshat captures New Mexico in photos
New Mexico may be known as the Land of Enchantment, but for Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat, it represents the land of dreams.
A New York-based photographer, videographer and filmmaker, Neshat traveled the United States before focusing his work on the people and landscapes of New Mexico. The results can be seen in his solo exhibition “Land of Dreams”, open at SITE Santa Fe until January 16, 2023.
The exhibition presents a selection of films, videos and photographs centered on a series of portraits created in New Mexico in 2019. “Land of Dreams” is a multidisciplinary project that combines the artist’s unique approach to portrait with an imaginative yet documentary journey through the subconscious mind.
The exhibit features 111 portraits of New Mexico residents, embellished with Neshat’s signature Farsi calligraphy.
The project marks the first the artist has linked in the United States
“It’s a conceptual portrait of the United States from the perspective of an Iranian immigrant,” Neshat said in a phone interview from Santa Fe.
The artist traveled across the country before choosing New Mexico as his base. The land reminded him of his home.
“We fell in love with New Mexico for both its landscape and its people,” she said.
A two-channel video installation accompanies the portraits in the cinematic landscape of New Mexico. The first video follows a young Iranian photographer who goes door to door, creating portraits of foreigners and collecting their dreams. The second video transports the viewer to a sterile bureaucratic setting where the dreams she collects are recorded and analyzed.
“I paid attention to my own dreams,” Neshat said. “I have noticed that I have a lot of recurring dreams. Often my mother, who is still in Iran, appears there.
Neshat set up his camera in pizzerias and hotels across the state, asking residents for permission to take their portraits, then asking them about their dreams.
“Dreams are often about people’s fears and anxieties,” she said. “It could be the loss of a loved one, death or abandonment.”
Some of the people Neshat spoke with were immigrants and some were homeless. Some were Native American, others Hispanic. Some were middle class.
“You could see how people shared similar nightmares and dreams,” she said. “Dreams cross borders.
“I really got to know some wonderful people,” she continued. “They were all so welcoming to me.”
Neshat left Iran in 1975 to study art at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Shortly after my arrival there was the Islamic Revolution in 1979,” she said. “I separated from my family. I am in voluntary exile
“We have a dictatorship,” she continued. “We have a very oppressive government. We are almost on the eve of a revolution made by a woman. It’s very exciting and also scary because people are getting killed.
This oppression sparked a series of protests in September following the death of Mahsa Amini, who died after being taken into custody and beaten by the orientation patrol following a violation related to “inappropriate hijab”. Protesting students were sprayed with tear gas and shot by pellet guns, paintballs and rubber bullets.
Neshat’s mother and sisters still live there.
“They cut off the internet, but you can call the landline,” Neshat said. “I spoke to my mother this morning. They are very shaken and angry with the government. The United States does not issue visas to Iranians. They don’t want to leave; it is their house. They want the government gone.