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An Artist Comes to Life: Shirin Neshat’s “Looking for Oum Kulthum” Screens at Hammer Museum

Shirin Neshat event at the Hammer
Halley Sutton

A screening of Shirin Neshat’s film, “Looking for Oum Kulthum,” at the Hammer Museum kicked off Otis College of Art and Design’s summer residency series. The film touched on the history of Oum Kulthum, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, the role of the female artist in male-dominated spaces, sacrifice, and artistic failure. The screening was followed by a question and answer session between Neshat, Shoja Azari, co-director and writer of the film, and Otis College President Bruce W. Ferguson.

Neshat is an Iranian-born artist and filmmaker living in New York and explores and experiments with the mediums of photography, video, and film, continuously pushing new boundaries. Neshat was the recipient of the Golden Lion Award - the First International Prize at the 48th Venice Biennial (1999), the Hiroshima Freedom Prize (2005), The Crystal Award (2014), and the Praemium Imperiale (2017). Her work is included in the collections of museums and public institutions around the world. In 2009, Neshat directed her first feature-length film, Women Without Men, which received the Silver Lion Award for Best Director at the 66th Venice International Film Festival.

The creative process is full of sacrifice and beauty

The movie is a film within a film, capturing the struggle of Iranian film director Mitra to direct a biopic of legendary Egyptian singer, Oum Kulthum. In the Q&A with Azari and Ferguson that followed the film, Neshat said that she first wanted to film a biopic of Oum Kulthum herself, but after struggling to do so, was encouraged to bring more of her own contemporary experience as an artist to the script, resulting in the final film.

The discussion also touched on Neshat’s decision to film in color rather than her more typical black and white, which Neshat said was an artistic decision made based on the importance of color at the time of Oum Kulthum’s ascendancy in Egyptian culture, as well as the representation of some of Oum Kulthum’s most well-known clothing styles.

You can find additional information about “Looking for Oum Kulthum,” including the trailer and upcoming screenings, at

Join Otis College for more artistic programming this summer

Summer Residencies and Programs at Otis College offer artists and designers the opportunity to explore and create work in the unique and culturally diverse arts community of Los Angeles. Our programs engage participants in challenging work alongside peers and colleagues who share the same creative goals and passion. Summer 2018 programs include traditional residencies in art, design and writing; youth and adult intensive classes and camps; theory and practice-based courses; curatorial tracks; and professional development retreats. For more information on upcoming retreats, and lectures open to the public, visit

Halley Sutton is a graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design MFA Writing program. She lives in Playa del Rey, CA.

Photo: Shoja Azari, co-director and writer of the film, Shirin Neshat, and Otis College President Bruce Ferguson during the Q&A.