Filmed in New York
In Turbulent, Neshat furthered her exploration of gender in Islamic culture and social custom in Iran through the practice of allowing male vocalists to perform in public while female vocalists were prohibited from such appearances. She simplified the presentation format by reducing the channels to two, displayed on opposing walls, and made the films in black and white. One screen opens with the sound of stringed instruments as the camera scans rows of men seated in an auditorium; on stage, the performer has his back to the audience but faces the camera lens. On the opposing wall, a single veiled women stands with her back to the camera so as to reveal an empty concert hall. The male performer—Shoja Azari, lip-syncing to the voice of Shahram Nazeri—sings a soulful rendition of a poem by Rumi (1207-73) with orchestral accompaniment. The male spectators listen attentively and motionless, until they applaud at the end of the performance. As Azari bows he seems to hear something—low tones, rhythmic enunciations. He turns and gazes into the space of the viewer as if questioning whether or not he had heard anything. On the opposite screen the camera is still trained on the back of a veiled woman, the acclaimed Iranian vocalist and composer Sussan Deyhim, who has participated in many of Neshat's projects, as she begins her performance. The vantage slowly revolves to reveal her face as she vocalizes over a wide tonal and expressive range that is remarkable in its complexity and depth. Breathy and guttural, her utterance careens between melodic themes, visceral wails, and pulsing cadences that modulate as she seems to improvise song. Her voice reverberates and echoes, alternating between solos and electronically overlaid harmonies. The camera pans in circles around her body, capturing the passion of the singer. Throughout this performance, Azari's character watches in awe, transfixed by Deyhim's presence, which seems to personify the opening lines of Forugh Farrokhzad's poem:
My whole being as a dark chant
which will carry you
to the dawn of eternal growths and blossoming ....*1
Not only does the female performer challenge social customs, she also subverts musical and performance conventions with avant-garde song. In contrast, the male vocalist delivers a technically accurate and emotionally rich version of a traditional song. With these two recitals, Neshat began to work in binary systems: dark and light, male and female, empty and full, tradition and innovation, stationary and moving cameras. RRH
*1. Furogh Farrokhzad, M. Hillmann, and K. Emami, Once Again, Another Birth: Poems (Tehran, 1999), 19.