Through her father’s acceptance of Western ideologies came an acceptance of a form of western feminism. Neshat’s father encouraged his daughters to “be an individual, to take risks, to learn, to see the world” (MacDonald 3), and he sent his daughters as well as his sons to college to receive their higher education.
After graduate school, she moved to New York and began to work for a non-profit organization called Storefront Art and Architecture. This multidisciplinary organization exposed her to many different ideologies, and would become a place where she received much needed experience with and exposure to concepts that would later become integral to her artwork. During this time, she did not make any serious attempts at creating art, and the few attempts that were made were subsequently destroyed. In 1990, she returned to Iran. As a way of coping with the discrepancy between the culture that she experienced and that of the pre-revolution Iran in which she was raised, she began her first mature body of work, the Women of Allah series.
Her work refers to the social, cultural and religious codes of Muslim societies and the complexity of certain oppositions, such as man and woman. Neshat often emphasizes this theme with the technique of showing two or more coordinated films concurrently, creating stark visual contrasts through such motifs as light and dark, black and white, male and female. Neshat has also made more traditional narrative short films, such as her recent work, Zarin.
The work of Shirin Neshat addresses the social, political and psychological dimensions of women's experience in contemporary Islamic societies. Although Neshat actively resists stereotypical representations of Islam, her artistic objectives are not explicitly polemical. Rather, her work recognizes the complex intellectual and religious forces shaping the identity of Muslim women throughout the world.
As a photographer and video-artist, Shirin Neshat was recognized for her brilliant portraits of women entirely overlaid by Persian calligraphy (notably through the Women of Allah series). She also directed several videos, among them Anchorage (1996) and, projected on two opposing walls: Shadow under the Web (1997), Turbulent (1998), Rapture (1999) and Soliloquy (1999).
Neshat's recognition became more international in 1999, when she won the International Award of the XLVIII Biennial of Venice with Turbulent and Rapture, a project involving almost 250 extras and produced by the Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont which met with critical and public success after its worldwide avant-première at the Art Institute of Chicago in May 1999. With Rapture, Neshat tried for the first time to make pure photography with the intent of creating an aesthetic, poetic, and emotional shock.
In 2001-02, Neshat collaborated with singer Sussan Deyhim and created Logic of the Birds, which was produced by curator and art historian RoseLee Goldberg. The full length multimedia production premiered at the Lincoln Center Summer Festival in 2002 and toured to the Walker Art Institute in Minneapolis and to Artangel in London.
Shirin Neshat has become possibly the most well known Persian artist within the Western artistic world. Furthermore, she is an inspiration and role model for Iranian people internationally. While she lives in New York City, she addresses a global audience. Her earlier work was symbolic of her personal grief, anxiety and the pain of separation from her home country. It took a neutral position on Islam. As time progressed and the Islamic regime of Iran became more intrusive and oppressive, Neshat's artwork became more boldly political and subversively critical against it.
She seeks to, according an article in Time, "untangle the ideology of Islam through her art." Her current cinematic work continues to express the poetic, philosophical, and metaphorical as well as complex levels of intellectual abstraction.
Shirin was profiled in The New Yorker magazine in October 22, 2007.