This photograph is among the most powerful and appealing images from Shirin Neshat’s monumental series Women of Allah, which portrays chador-clad Iranian women, often posed with a rifle or gun in a provocative manner, whose exposed body parts are inscribed with text in black ink. The images contradict a Western notion of Muslim women as diminished and desexualized by the veil and disempowered by their faith. In Neshat’s work, women are strong, even heroic, eroticized by their weapons and sanctioned by the texts inscribed on their bodies. Here, the print shows the side of a woman’s face, the barrel of a gun emerging from the shadowy area between her cheek and barely visible chador like a gaudy earring. She stares outward calmly, her face covered with verses by the Iranian poet Tahereh Saffarzadeh, in which she addresses her brothers in the revolution, asking if she can participate.
Now based in New York, Shirin Neshat is perhaps the best known artist of the Iranian diaspora that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She left in 1974 to study in the United States but returned to Iran in 1990, and much of what she saw and experienced then informed her first major body of work, Women of Allah.