Neshat’s portraits capture the sitters’ piercing yet fatigued gaze that reveals the energy and loss brought on by revolution. The artist inserts a barely visible layer of Persian calligraphy over the faces, a metaphor for the indecipherable quality of individuals exposed to disturbing political realities. The two images are part of a larger series entitled Our House is On Fire, named after a line in the poem “A Cry” by the Iranian poet Mehdi Akhavan Sales (1928–1990). Work on the series brought Neshat to Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring to speak with and photograph locals. The challenge of picturing loss and grief became Neshat’s directive: “I feel strongly that you cannot make work about a subject unless you have experienced it yourself. You can’t make work about exile unless you have lived in exile. You cannot make painful art unless you have suffered. You cannot make political work if you haven’t lived a political life."
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