, Shirin Neshat wears clothing resembling a chador, the traditional Iranian dress for Muslim women. A chador is a large cloth worn as a combination head covering, veil, and shawl. The garment was forbidden in Iran when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was in charge, before 1979. Known as the shah, he wanted to modernize Iran and was supported by the United States. After the Iranian Revolution removed him from power, women were seen as key to achieving public change and they were required by the government to wear the garment. Since that time the chador has become more a political issue and less a religious one. (In fact, the law of Islam as written in the Koran does not require women to wear veils.)
In Iran, wearing a chador allows women to move outside the confinement of home into public and professional areas. As one Iranian schoolgirl explains: "We want to stop men from treating us like sex objects. . . . We want them to ignore our appearance and be attentive to our personalities and minds. We want them to take us seriously and treat us as equals, not just chase us around for our bodies and physical looks."
Excerpt from Women in World History Curriculum 2002
Shirin Neshat has firsthand knowledge of the chador and its complex history, having grown up in an Iran that forbade the chador and now representing her homeland in her work. But the complicated symbols suggested by the chador are a small part of what Neshat is after. For her, it points to larger issues of women's roles and cultural identity in a global world.