BY TRACEY FUGAMI
If you wait until next year to visit the Seattle Art Museum when their expanded new home opens to the public, you will miss one of the most significant additions to their collection. On view until Oct. 15 is Shirin Neshat’s “Tooba,” (2002). Originally commissioned for Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany, the museum and over a dozen other contributors purchased this piece in honor of past Deputy Director of Art Lisa Corrin. It is almost a year since Corrin’s departure, however Neshat’s piece functions as a trace of her exhibitions and curatorial endeavors.
Prepare to be inspired and moved during the 12-minute video by Shirin Neshat. Combining aspects of Persian culture, storytelling and landscape, the piece is also emotionally expansive, ranging from somber stills to dramatic and ritualistic choreography. The artist deftly navigates a terrain of visual imagery and music in sophisticated harmony. The mesmerizing panoramic scenes are juxtaposed with intimate shots. The film has layers of complexity in meaning but remains minimal in approach, a signature style, which is a foundation of a few other works such as “Passage” (2001), “Fervor” (2000), and “Rapture” (1999).
Filmed in Oaxaca, Mexico, the two-screen video opens with various peaceful landscape scenarios. In the opposite screen several feet away, the same calming quality is mimicked in the close-up depictions of an older woman’s face and gesture. The deep recessed lines in her skin correlate to the naturally formed outline in the hillsides. A group of people cloaked in black appear in the far distance, and run with intent in various formations and pathways in unison. Another shot depicts several men sitting in a circle chanting and bowing in a similar rhythmic manner. Simultaneously, more of the woman’s body is revealed until it becomes apparent that she is standing at the base of a fig tree. When the two separate screens intersect and the group arrives at the tree, the woman eerily disappears.
In a recent article in Modern Painters, Neshat comments, “I’ve battled with the pain of cultural disjointment and alienation, but over time have accepted the state of living as a nomad – a stranger, both in respect to my own culture and my host country.”
Neshat’s comment is reflected metaphorically in this video, which offers an interesting perspective on isolation and belonging as well as the individual versus the group. The word “Tooba” is the name of a sacred tree, or “tree of paradise” which is mentioned in the Koran and offers shelter and blessings. It is possible that Neshat has found resolve in her struggles with occupying two cultures by inhabiting neither.
Note: “Home Truths,” Three Middle-Eastern Artists Probe the Facts Behind the Fictions, Andreas Leventis, Modern Painters, May 2006, Pg. 89.