Friday, May 11, 2012

"Grace Under Duty": An Analysis


"Grace Under Duty," Nashat, 1994.
By Tori L. and Kelly S.
The name of this work of art is “Grace Under Duty”  and was created by Shirin Neshat in 1994. 

The first thing I noticed about this piece of art is that it is black and white. The focal point of the picture is the revolver that Neshat is holding in her hands. She has her finger on the trigger and she seems to be aiming right at the camera. It looks as though she is about to shoot someone or something. The majority of Neshat’s body is enveloped by her black veil. The only parts of her body that are showing are her wrist, hand and all of the features on her face except her mouth. Her hair is covered by the veil along with the rest of her body that is in the photo. Her eyes appear to be locked on a subject and have a sad and forlorn look to them. She looks as if she is staring at someone or something that she is tired of dealing with. The last part about this piece of art that I think is most important are the Farsi words that are written across her face, wrist, and hand.

The tone of Neshat’s work has a personal and private twist to it, all while her work provides  thought provoking images that challenge the Islamic culture and its ideals, beliefs, and traditions. Just like Adrienne Rich mentioned in her essay, Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts, “Art is both tough and fragile. It speaks of what we long to heat and what we dread to find” (Rich 102).  Neshat explained in an interview why she chose women as her subjects in her artwork: “I found [women] to be the most potent subject, in terms of how the social and political changes caused by the revolution affected their lives, how they embodied this new ideology, and how they were managing to survive the changes” (Moore 6). 

I think the issue of gender plays an important role in her artwork. In “Grace Under Duty” in particular she addresses the issue of how women are obligated to wear veils in Iran and she shows that by wearing the veil in the photograph. I think she also purposely holds the gun in such a way that it covers her mouth because that is her way of speaking out and taking control of her own power. Even though there are words written across the exposed parts of her body which reminds me of her being objectified, i think that since she is holding the gun and pointing it at the camera it creates a sense of authority which makes it seem like she refuses to be a woman who is regarded as an object, instead she is demanding to be considered a subject just like the men in her culture. 

“Grace Under Duty” is part of a series of photographs Nashat worked on in the 1990’s. The series was named "Women of Allah" and they were all photographs of Nashat. They all included the symbols of the black veil, a weapon and Arabic writing. They all attempted to use these elements to show the oppression of women in a time of violence in Iran and the conflict between modern Iran and old traditions.

Scott MacDonald described how “Grace Under Duty” fits into the bigger thematic issues surrounding Nashat’s “Women of Allah” exhibit:



The "Women of Allah" photographs provide a sustained rumination on the status and psyche of women in traditional Islamic cultures, using three primary elements: the black veil, modern weapons, and the written texts. In each photograph Neshat appears, dressed in black, sometimes covered completely, facing the camera, holding a weapon, usually a gun. The texts often appear to be part of the photographed imagery. The photographs are both intimate and confrontational. They reflect the repressed status of women in Iran and their power, as women and as Muslims. They depict Neshat herself as a woman caught between the freedom of expression evident in the photographs and the complex demands of her Islamic heritage, in which Iranian women are expected to support and sustain a revolution that frees them from Western decadence and represses dimensions of their individuality and creativity (MacDonald).


I think this photograph can be classified as being feminist art because it goes along with what we’ve been learning about with feminist art all semester. As stated in Joanna Frueh’s article, The Body Through the Women’s Eyes, “Society dismisses the speech of a woman's body” (Frueh 194). I believe that this piece of art goes along with what some other feminist artists do by using a woman’s body to portray resistance.  I think Neshat uses a the Farsi words on the woman’s body parts in this photograph to show the oppression that women face in Iran, and also how they are viewed more along the lines of being an object instead of a subject. For example, instead of being “walked all over”, they are being “written all over”. 

I think that this piece of artwork is both similar and different to all of Lady Pink, who is also considered a feminist artist, and her graffiti murals. It is similar because both Neshat and Lady Pink use words in their images to help show how a woman can be portrayed as an object and a subject. They are different because Lady Pink uses a lot of colors in her murals, whereas Neshat mainly uses black and white in her photos, especially in her “Women of Allah” photo series.

I feel like this photo heavily relates to the novel Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. The backdrop of Neshat’s work is the same as that of Marjane’s in Persepolis: the Iranian Revolution. The conflict between tradition before the regime change and modern Iran is also prevalent in the work through the use of the veil. Neshat’s work revolves around Iranian culture, and Persepolis takes place mostly in Iran as well. The first section in the novel is titled “The Veil”, and in this section Marjane writes about after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it “became obligatory [for girls] to wear the veil at school” (Satrapi 3). Neshat photographs a woman wearing a veil in her artwork which shows just what Marjane discussed about it being mandatory for women to cover their hair with the veils. Another reading that this photograph relates to is How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, by Julia Alvarez. Just like the Garcia girls, Neshat left her homeland and moved to America, and since she’s been residing in the States, Neshat has featured her work in many galleries and showings in New York.

The gun was the first thing I noticed. It was startling to see a woman with a weapon, especially one that is pointed right at you. Even before researching the work, I knew it would have a story of violence and sadness behind it. I think I was affected by it being a woman holding the gun because women are stereotypically nurturing and docile. However, this woman appeared to be ready to fight for something, maybe even her life. I think this is a powerful piece because it made me wonder why she needs a weapon and who does she intend to use it on. I also wished I spoke the language printed all over her body to know more of her story.



Works Cited

  • MacDonald, Scott. "Between Two Worlds: An Interview With Shinn Neshat." Feminist Studies 30.3 (2004): 620-659. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 May 2012.
  • Moore, Lindsey. "Frayed Connections, Fraught Projections: The Troubling Work Of Shirin Neshat." Women 13.1 (2002): 1-17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 May 2012.
  • Rich, Adrienne. “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts” in Arts of the Possible: Essays in Conversation, p. 98-103.
  • Frueh, Joanna. “The Body Through Women’s Eyes” in The Power of Feminist Art, p.190-207.

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