The U.S Capitol Building and Speechless Artworks
The U.S Capitol Building artwork was begun in the year 1793. The building is white in color. It is very wide as compared to its height. One can say that the building is symmetrical; it has a central vertical axis. Looking closely at the building, it is divided into five parts horizontally. Out of the five parts, three stands out more clearly and have vertical columns. The most emphasized part of the U.S. Capitol Building is the central section. The dome is the focal point of the artwork. The building appears to effectively balance its function with aesthetics. Speechless (1996) by Shirin Neshat is a pen and ink over gelatin silver print, 49” x 36” artwork. It is a part of the “Women of Allah” series by Shirin Neshat. The content of the artwork is a woman who appears sad and crying. There are many words written in Arabic all over her face yet her lips are closed. This can be interpreted to mean that she has so many words but she is unable to open her mouth and speak them out.
Both the U.S Capitol Building artwork and the Speechless (1996) artwork have a political context. The U.S Capitol Building artwork reflects Greek and Roman architecture. The complex iconography used in the architecture of the work is representative of the idea of democracy in the United States (Greece) and power which is represented by the Roman Empire [Zimmer, Annette and Toepler, 38]. The idea behind the U.S. Capitol Building was to create a chain among the political system in the country [Duncan, 293]. It would be rooted in the ancient traditions and would be the place where American laws would be endorsed. The veil worn by the woman in the ‘Speechless’ artwork carries a political message. Neshat affirms that the structure and ideology of a country can be read by carefully studying a woman [Neshat, 180]. At the time when the author of the artwork grew up, their national leader embraced Western ideologies. Iranian women began wearing the veil as a kind of protest against his leadership.
The U.S Capitol Building artwork does not conform to the authority of religious thought, which is done by Speechless artwork. The texts in the image are written in Arabic which is commonly used by members of the Islamic religion. The practice of wearing the veil among the Iranian women was as a result of the Islamic Revolution which broke out in the year 1979 [Zabel, 18]. The women felt that the Western ideologies embraced by their leader did not conform to their Islamic religion; resulting in their protest. After the revolution, the rights and privileges they had grown up with were taken away from them and it was made mandatory for them to wear a veil every time they were in public. The women were left with no choices and this can be seen in the artwork where the lips of the woman are closed even if there are many words written on her face. The Islamic religion in the country has authority and can impact even the national political arena.
Another visible contrast between the two artworks is that The U.S Capitol Building is symbolic of freedom and democracy while Speechless symbolizes a lack of freedom. The dome of the building is crowned by a bronze statue which is known as The Statue of Freedom. The architecture also reflects the idea of democracy. In Speechless, the woman is depicted as one who is denied the freedom of speech or expression. Her rights are taken away from her leaving her sad and desolate.
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Duncan, Carol. “Art museums and the ritual of citizenship.” Interpreting Objects and Collections. Routledge, 2012. 291-298.
Neshat, Shirin. “Speechless.” Art and Feminism, edited by Helena Reckitt (1996): 180-181.
Zabel, Igor. “Women in black.” Art Journal 60.4 (2001): 16-25.
Zimmer, Annette, and Stefan Toepler. “The subsidized muse: government and the arts in Western Europe and the United States.” Journal of Cultural Economics 23.1-2 (1999): 33-49.