Art matters: ‘Ava’ by Shirin Neshat

A new installment in the ‘Art Matters’ series examines ‘Ava’ by photographer and filmmaker Shirin Neshat, on view at Perry World House.

artwork photograph of person's face with lines of text written over it
“Ava” by Shirin Neshat.


Shirin Neshat (Iranian b. 1957)
Ava, 2012
Ink on silver gelatin print
Gift of Richard C. and Lisa Perry
University of Pennsylvania Art Collection 
Location: Perry World House, second floor

Photographer and filmmaker Sherin Neshat is celebrated for her technique of overlaying black and white photographic portraits with Farsi text, meticulously written in tiny calligraphy and drawn from the ancient Persian book of epic poems “Shabnameh” as well as contemporary Iranian poetry. This portrait comes from Neshat’s “Book of Kings” series. It is one of several contemporary artworks donated to the Penn Art Collection by Richard and Lisa Perry that hang in Perry World House. 

Richard Perry, a 1977 graduate of the Wharton School and a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, says they purchased “Ava” specifically for Perry World House.

“We had always been drawn to Shirin Neshat and had always felt that there is an incredibly powerful message in looking at her art. I think that to change the world, you need people and people need to have a voice. And so clearly Shirin has a voice, and she uses her photography and her subjects to express that voice in a very powerful way and yet not an incendiary way. Her art to me is a protest, and this piece is about a beautiful woman, a beautiful culture, and the way I see it is not having the right or all the freedoms that she would like to have,” Perry said in a recent interview. “It’s almost like a talisman for us: Her vision and her omniscience looking out and guiding Perry World House in a very strong way, not only standing up for the Iranian people but also for all the people who come in and out of Perry World House.”

Shirin Neshat, in exile from Iran and based in New York City, gave a talk at Perry World House on March 15, 2022. “What I create ironically is not entirely Iranian or American, it is a product of the life of a person with a life of hybridity, a nomadic life, the life of an immigrant. … This sense of duality … as a person constantly navigating, and conflicted between East and West, Iran and America, it’s also something that has informed my work both in terms of forms and concepts.” 

desk area with artwork on wall behind desk
The artwork “Ava” by Shirin Neshat is on the second floor of the Perry World House, in a common area at the top of the stairs.