Shirin Neshat grew up in a family who supported Shah Reza Pahlavi. In 1974 she was sent to USA to study first in college and then at the University of California Berkeley.
Here she received a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting in 1983.
Ayatollah Khomeini's takeover in 1979 prevented Shirin Neshat from returning home to Iran, and today she is a resident of New York. At first she worked in galleries and did not properly begin a career as an artist until the early 1990s when she also went back to Iran for the first time. The impressions of this journey became a springboard for her subsequent art.
The point of departure for her art is women's changed status since the secular society under the Shah. The last time Shirin Neshat visited Iran was in 1995 and she has never exhibited there; in 1999 she was declared persona non grata and enemy to the Islamic revolution and the state of Iran.
Neshat's artistic breakthrough came in 1996 with the photo series Allah's Women (1993-96) in which she depicted herself and other women wearing chadors with only their hands, faces and feet visible. These body parts were covered with Persian love poetry written in Farsi calligraphy.
Since then international recognition has been lavished on Neshat, and in 1999 she was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennial for the work Turbulent.
Neshat has participated in numerous exhibitions all over the world. Her solo exhibitions include Miami Art Museum, Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City (2003), Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Aarhus Kunstmuseum (2002), Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montreal, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg (2001), Serpentine Gallery, London, Kunsthalle Wien (2000), Malmö Konsthall, Art Institute of Chicago (1999), Tate Gallery in London, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1998.
Neshat's many group exhibitions include "Fantasies of the Harem and the New Sherezades" at Centre de Cultura Contemporania, Barcelona in 2003, "Documenta 11" in Kassel (2002), "Moving Pictures" at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York, "New Art" at Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, "Real Life", Tate St. Ives in Cornwall (2001), "Sydney Biennial", Australia, "Kwangju Biennial", Korea, "Whitney Biennial" at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2000), "Heaven: An Exhibition That Will Break Your Heart" at Tate Gallery Liverpool, "Venice Biennial" in 1999, "Unfinished History" at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1998) and "Transculture at the Venice Biennial" in 1995.
Furthermore Shirin Neshat is represented at Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Tate Modern in London, Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, New Orleans Museum of Art, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo per L'Arte, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City.