For the 12th consecutive day, protests sparked by the death of Mahsa (Jhina) Amini continue to rage across Iran. Amini, a Kurdish woman, died after three days in detention by Iran’s “morality police,” who severely beat her for not wearing her government-mandated headscarf properly. Despite Iran’s brutal crackdown on dissent, protesters of all genders, ages, religions, races and socioeconomic backgrounds continue to fight. Hundreds of videos of women burning headscarves and cutting off their hair quickly spread across social media — and alongside them, Iranian and Kurdish artists are applying their skills to amplify their voices.
On Instagram, artist Jalaj has garnered thousands of likes by superimposing the dancing women from Henri Matisse’s “La Danse” (1910) over Iran’s famous Freedom Square. “It’s rare to dare to use nude design collages,” Jalaj told Hyperallergic. The nude images contrast sharply with the veils of hair and loose “manto” overcoats worn by the women. Read aloud, Persian typography above them reads the Kurdish phrase “Zin – Zian – Azadi,” or “Women, Life, Freedom,” a rallying cry heard in many protests.
Designer Asal Faraschi also created the digital poster of the song “Women, Life, Freedom”. “This is our new slogan, just like a mantra, a password,” they said “Respect to all brave Iranian women and those like Mahsa Amini who were killed and may be killed in the coming days and nights.”
Jalaj wrote that instead of graffiti and wheat paste protests, “All work in Iran is digital. Our behavior is strictly controlled.” This is made more difficult by the Iranian government’s massive internet blackout. Many artists in Iran had difficulty sending messages and artwork for this story.
Sculptor Kamran Sharif wrote, “I lived and grew up in Iran and all my life I have witnessed these injustices against women and human rights violations by the rulers.” Although he created it I’m still alive A series of pieces of human hair and urethane well before the current uprising, he reposted them because their implicit symbols of freedom and expression are more relevant than ever.
Another poignant post comes from renowned artist Farah Osuli, who shared a detail of her 2014 work “Fra Angelico and I.” The gouache painting, one of the traditional miniatures of his contemporary Safavid period, is from a series titled Ominous. Listen! Will you hear the darkness swell. The image needs little explanation: the painful images of violence perpetrated by the authorities against women and children are more striking than Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”.
The fight against government-mandated headscarves also includes people who don’t identify as women. “It is very important for me to highlight that this fight is not only for women, but also for those who are victims of the oppressive mandatory hijab law in Iran,” said Nafas, a transgender and autistic painter. Homosexuality is heavily criminalized in Iran, with laws that can even force LGBTQ+ people to undergo unwanted gender reassignment surgery.
“A lot of people think it’s just (cis) women fighting in the streets even though there are trans and non-binary people on the front lines,” Nafas told Hyperallergic. “So there’s a lot of erasure happening right now and it’s important to make visible marginalized groups who are fighting these same battles.”
Another often underrepresented struggle is the fight for Kurdish rights. Artist Zehra Dogan told Hyperallergic, “The ‘rising up for Iranian women’ slogan, which is being promoted in the media today, is incomplete in my opinion. “The death of a Kurdish woman has paved the way for unprecedented resistance in Iran.” Police brutality has killed 76 people, at least 17 Kurds. Minority, which includes four children. While the top hashtag has generated millions of repeats of the name “Mahsa Amini,” Kurdish American artist and TikToker @Ziwini expressed frustration that more people aren’t using her Kurdish name “Zhina,” which is her nickname. It was illegal to do so. The Kurdish language is restricted in Iran. The Kurdish people make up 10% of Iran’s population and have faced relentless persecution under the Iranian government in recent years. Armed Kurds have accused the population of fueling it.
Kurdish artist Zehra Dogan was recently taken into custody in Berlin (and released the same day) after staging a performance involving the scattering of henna, hair and menstrual blood at the gates of the Iranian consulate. “Kurdish women in Iran are persecuted both for their identity and because they are women… We are under our heads because of our identity and because we are women,” Dogan told Hyperallergic. “So I practice my art with my hair and blood. I want to say ‘I am here,’ ‘We are here’, with my femininity against the male state that oppresses women by their hair.
Protesters are demanding justice for rampant corruption and economic mismanagement, the government’s response to the pandemic, and US-led internationally imposed sanctions, among other issues that have reportedly had a massively detrimental impact on quality of life through a battered economy. As Iranians at home fight on their home turf, many others find their own ways to fight back from the diaspora around the world. “As an Iranian woman who had to immigrate to America I felt the pangs of diaspora and absence,” artist Forjan Safari wrote in an email. “It’s a strange feeling to see my country Iran in pain and I’m not there to protest with my people.”
Some of his pictures evoke the strength of Iranians fighting back against their government’s armed forces. Others portray hope for a prosperous, expressive and harmonious Iran. “I want to evoke the power of imagery, universal cultural truths, and emotions, and lead my listeners on a path to freedom and peace.”
As Iranians in Iran and abroad speak out, one demand from the world community is clear: spread the word and escalate the fight. In Goreshi’s words: “Art is a form of education and spreading awareness! Keep talking! And never stop. Because I won’t.”