Culture, Women
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Poetry, Art and Diasporic Iranian Women

Defining one’s own identity as a diasporic self in foreign country is a complex issue. But poetry came helpful to Shirin Neshat and Maryam Habibian: they used Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad to express themselves in a context where they hadn’t grown up.
In an interesting article Jasmin Darznik explores the legacy of Forough Farrokhzad (1935–1967) in the Iranian American diaspora.
The abstract of her study reads: “At once political and poetic, particular and universal, Farrokhzad’s oeuvre has in recent years become a vital coordinate for a number of contemporary Iranian American women exploring issues of gender, faith, social justice, and human rights across historical and cultural boundaries”.
She argues “that the imaginative recovery of Farrokhzad by Iranian immigrant women writers and artists not only complicates the West’s frequently reductive contemporary representations of Middle Eastern women, but marks a bold and evolving interface between modernist Iranian literature and contemporary Iranian immigrant literature”.

Thus Darnznik makes an interesting point: migrants to the United States working as artists, use the important literary tradition of their own roots for their work of art. Their own identity is then defined in the context they chose to inhabit as a complex hybrid: local western models braiding traditional poetry to create an original – an globally known- work of art.

Shirin Neshat used Forough’s written words over photographs (see picture above*)  in an exhibit at the Smithsonian to “find a voice for iranian women and to reveal the conflict between tradition and modernity” and Maryam Habibian organized an event as a scholar and as a playwrighter inspired to Forough’s way of life. For those who attended the multimedia event the short brief of the poet’s life was put simple words:

“Forugh Farrokhzad, Persian poetry’s most influential and controversial woman, broke through the imprisoning patriarchal ideals of womanhood with her earthy, yet militant poetry. A poet of the senses, she made public the revolutionary cries of an enraged artist”.

An inspiring woman who “went west” as Darznik would put it, and lived another life through the works of contemporary women artists.


Melissa Pignatelli

Source:  Jazmin Darznik , Forough Goes West: The Legacy of Forough Farrokhzad in Iranian Diasporic Art and Literature, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (2010) 6(1): 103-116; Duke University Press. Click here to access  link to full article.  

*(Photograph by Larry Burns / © Shirin Neshat / Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels / Hirshhorn Museum, SI).

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