TED posted a talk by Shirin Neshat in which she illustrates the challenges she faces—as well as the stimuli from which she draws empowerment and inspiration—as “an Iranian woman artist living in exile”:
What strikes me most from Neshat’s talk is her characterization of the Iranian artist as the voice of the people:
We are considered, as artists, central to the cultural, political, social discourse in Iran. We are there to inspire, to provoke, to mobilize, to bring hope to our people. We are the reporters of our people and are communicators to the outside world. Art is our weapon. Culture is a form of resistance. I envy sometimes the artists of the West for their freedom of expression, for the fact that they can distance themselves from the question of politics, from the fact that they are only serving one audience, mainly the Western culture. But also I worry about the West, because often, in this country, in this Western world, culture risks to be a form of entertainment.
Western art, as Neshat sees it, is able to function outside of a political context, but does that mean it should? Does the artist bear a certain social responsibility to challenge the status quo? Or is it enough for the artist to entertain? What, exactly, is the role of the artist?