Susan Meiselas, Wedding reception in the countryside, Santiago Nonualco, 1983
Susan Meiselas, Funeral procession for Arlen Siu, assassinated student leader, Jinotepe, Nicaragua, 1978
Shirin Neshat, Passage Series, 2001
The works of both the American photographer Susan Meiselas and the Iranian-born, American-based artist Shirin Neshat document politics in surprisingly similar ways.
For Meiselas, still best known for her first photojournalistic project chronicling the political upheavals in Central America in the 1970s and 1980s, documenting political change was more than just shooting photographs of military officers and armed insurgents. Over her five years in Nicaragua and El Salvador she photographed other things as well, from weddings to funeral processions, leaving one with the sense of how the turmoil affected all aspects of everyday life. Her use of color, pioneering and controversial in war photography at that time, gave an added immediacy to the images to which she applied it.
For Neshat, who lived outside of Iran from 1974 to 1990, the subject again is how political change has endless repercussions. When Neshat left Iran it was at the height of its modernization drive; when she returned the society she had known had been replaced by an Islamic/Iranian society that was foreign to her. For Neshat, the symbol and shorthand for this change became the mandatory reveiling act of 1983 (rescinding the mandatory unveiling act of 1936). Women were now limited in their “outside” spheres—social, religious, professional, political—and Neshat, with her “insider” knowledge of Iran, began to document how these women were challenging these limitations, first through still photographs and later through video installations and films.
In the image from Passage Series (2001), shot in Morocco as Neshat became uneasy about returning to Iran, one can see the separation between the men who are bearing the dead body and the chador-clad women. In this funeral procession, as opposed to Meiselas’, it seems even in death adults cannot overcome the man-made, politically driven societal divide.