Rebellious Silence is a photograph in a series known as “Women of Allah” compiled by Shirin Neshat in 1994, made of black and white RC print as well as ink. Within the portrait, Neshat defines her female perspective on imagery through her focus on a female-oriented subject matter involving the examination of the mandate for all women to wear the veil in public and her utilization of the gaze apparent in the photograph.
In her photographic portrait, Neshat is displayed wearing a veil, a requirement for all women in public.
This is a conflicting practice as many Muslim women find wearing a veil empowering whereas the opposing West observes oppression of women. In the artwork, she expresses both perspectives as she had originated in Iran but left to study in California as her environment grew hostile. However, after she had returned to her homeland, she faced an opposing society to which she grew up. In Rebellious Silence, Neshat utilizes the veil to shield female bodies from becoming a sexualized construct of the male gaze, reflecting her unique female perspective on the issue through the subject matter of the work.
However, not only does this veil protect her from male gazes, but it confines the focus of the audience’s gaze onto her face, the only other non-black portion of the image besides the background. This technique in grabbing the audience’s gaze to her face emphasizes the poetry written over her face, alluding to feminist texts, further expressing her female perspective on imagery.
In addition to her strategically worn veil, Neshat intensely gazes into the camera and thus the audience of the photograph, referencing many other feminist artists who had previously used the action to liberate the female body from objectification. This gazing back present in Neshat’s photograph breaks women free from their subservience to males, reinforcing her female perspective on art through the use of the subject matter.
Neshat’s work closely resembles previous artworks all the whilst standing as the polar opposite of others, reflecting her female perspective on the evolution of women in artwork. For instance, the technique of reversing the gaze of the audience in Rebellious Silence was similarly demonstrated in Manet’s Olympia in which the subject of the nude makes a threatening glare at the audience. This drift away from traditional nudes in Manet’s Olympia resembles Neshat’s ideal in drifting away from the normalcy of objectified women in artwork despite having been made more than a century apart. Furthermore, the opposition that Neshat strives to work against is exemplified in Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ The Grand Odalisque, which fitting as it is an Orientalist painting, reflects the difference between male and female perspectives on art as Neshat’s guarding of the female body from objectification and gaze contrasts Ingres’ depiction of the nude female body encompassed in a plethora of beautiful decorations and objects that imply women too as objects able to be possessed.