In 2012, Shirin Neshat and photographer Larry Barns traveled to Cairo to capture the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Mourning the unexpected death of Barns’s daughter just two months prior, the subject of loss permeated their experience. The portraits Neshat took there for her series Our House is on Fire, including Ghada and Sayed, provide emotional snapshots of locals who lived through the events. Neshat also videotaped her subjects’ stories of trauma in the wake of the violent revolution. Through the universality of personal tragedy, the artist connected to the war-torn, aging Egyptians she filmed and photographed.
A close look at the images reveals hand-written Persian text covering the sitters’ worn faces. Indecipherable words by poets of the Iranian Revolution can be found layered among the shadows and nestled in wrinkles. The use of Persian script on the faces of Arabic-speaking Egyptians presents the language of chaos, revolution, and suffering as one that transcends national and cultural borders.