Woman, Life, Freedom: Artists Support the Protestors of Iran

As the world watches Iranian women and men of all ages are protesting for their human rights and in support artists around the globe are trying to amplify their voices.

Since the death of Mahsa Amini a 22 year old woman in September, who died in hospital after being detained by the Islamic Republic regime’s ‘morality police’ for ‘inappropriate attire’ protests have been taking place across Iran. It was speculated that Amini was wearing a government-mandated headscarf ‘improperly’. Many of these protests calling for human rights are being met with violence as well as punitive measures such as a swathe of arrests (upwards of 1,000) and the threat of the death penalty.

On 15 November the UN Human Rights Office called for the immediate release of thousands of individuals being held in Iran for their involvement in peaceful demonstrations. The message delivered by spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jeremy Laurence was such; ‘Instead of opening space for dialogue on legitimate grievances, the authorities are responding to unprecedented protests with increasing harshness.’ He continued ‘Under international law, countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the “most serious crimes”, which is interpreted as crimes of extreme gravity, involving intentional killing. Crimes not resulting directly and intentionally in death can never serve as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty.’

In response to Amini’s death and to show solidarity with protestors in Iran the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin unveiled a self-portrait by Shirin Neshat ‘Unveiling’ from the series Women of Allah (1993-1997); the slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ is legible in Farsi and English. The banner was a gathering point on the day for Berlin-based Iranian artists, poets and performers to express themselves. Director, Klaus Biesenbach said ‘In midst of multilayered crisis the question gets more and more obvious, what is the role of a museum today? Last weekend we offered the museum as an open mic and place to share words and images for the women protesting in Iran.’

In New York’s Guggenheim Museum, a group of artists and activists unfurled a series of banners with Mahsa Amini’s face printed on them to draw attention to her story, as well as the message ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’. The anonymous artist collective issued a statement which said ‘This homage is a collective call for action to support the revolution in Iran, led by brave Iranian women risking their lives to overthrow a brutal dictatorship in a fight for freedom, democracy, and women rights.’

Ghazal Foroutan

With limited access to the internet from inside Iran, with Instagram, WhatsApp and the web being allegedly restricted, the Iranian diaspora is working hard online to share information. Artists are showing their support for the women of Iran on social media, including Nasim Nasr, Tala Madini and Shirin Neshat to name a few. The artists are sharing information on protests as well as news from Iran, such as the update that Iranian rap artist Toomaj Salehi has been arrested allegedly for his lyrics and is facing accusations punishable by death.

Artists are also creating new work in response to what is happening. Ghazal Foroutan is a designer and has made protest posters and merchandise for people to use in activism. Sahar Ghorishi is an artist sharing work responding in real time to the events unfolding, for example a recent image depicted women taking off and alluding to burning their hijabs in defiance of the regime. Evidently expression from within Iran is both increasingly difficult and of urgent importance, as Pamela Karimi for Hyperallergic writes ‘Art coming out of Iran (or by artists in the diaspora) has a radical and rebellious zeal… In response to the current unrest, many have abandoned exhibition and performance for the “anonymous” expression of political views through graffiti and ephemeral installations.’

Sahar Ghorishi

Back to the United States of America where Mediseh Bathaie, a young activist, led a group of Iranian artists and scientists as they handcuffed themselves to Chris Burden’s artwork ‘Urban Light’ at the entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Dressed all in black, the group cast a striking presence as they hugged the bottoms of what appear to be all white lamp posts in shining in the night, their heads turned down evoking a peaceful and mournful feeling, it is part of Islamic tradition that the 40 days after death represent a spiritual intercession where the soul may live on.

Surrounding them on the floor were pieces of paper which they then held up before creating what looks like a shrine or vigil. On the sheets were the faces and stories of Khodanoor Lejei, a citizen who the LA protest group said was shot and died while engaged in anti-government activism and Faezeh Barahouei, who they say has been arrested and sentenced to prison after she protested the rape of the 15-year-old girl. The Art Newspaper reported that the group handed out leaflets to the public which read ‘a revolution is happening in the streets of Iran and the Islamic Republic is violently trying to silence freedom workers.’ They said the act marks 40 days since the Zahedan Massacre, it was reported that Iranian security forces opened fire into a crowd of protestors killing what some have suggested to be more than 90 people.

You can follow the efforts of artists and activists on social media by using the hashtag #womanlifefreedom or #womenlifefreedom