Artist Hajar Moradi's poster for an action held in Ontario, Canada (image courtesy the artist and Simin Keramati)

On September 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after three days in the custody of Iran’s so-called “morality police.” Iranian authorities reportedly beat Amini to death after arresting her for improperly wearing the hijab.

Protests in Iran erupted while Amini was in still the hospital and have now spread across the country and the globe. In many of the demonstrations, Iranian women cut their hair, demanding an end to gender-based injustice and state-sanctioned violence. In response, the Iranian government has shut down the internet and deployed unlawful force. According to Amnesty International, Iranian authorities have beaten people with batons, fired live ammunition at protesters from close range, and wrongfully employed tear gas and water cannons. At least 76 protestors have been killed and hundreds more arrested.

In a September 25 video, Oscar-winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi called for the support and participation of the creative community: “I invite all artists, filmmakers, intellectuals, civil rights activists from all over the world and all countries, and everyone who believes in human dignity and freedom to stand in solidarity with the powerful and brave women and men of Iran by making videos, in writing or any other way,” Farhadi wrote.

Across the world, artists are using their platforms to voice their solidarity and denounce Amini’s death.

Artists and activists hold a poster created by artist Hajar Moradi. (photo courtesy Mehran Azarbad)

Filmmakers and visual artists requested “direct and public support” for Iranians in an open letter signed by Kaveh Farnam, Abdolreza Kahani, and Shirin Neshat, among others.

“The world should know Iranian brave people are fighting for freedom, fighting for human rights, fighting against a monster which came out from the deepest and darkest cave of religious fanaticism,” Farnam told Hyperallergic. In an email, Neshat said she was proud to be an Iranian woman and “beyond moved by the courage shown in the past days as Iranians risk their lives so they can bring change, hope and unity to a country that has been so badly bruised and divided by this dictatorship.”

Another open letter, penned by academics worldwide, garnered hundreds of signatures, including those of activist and scholar Angela Davis and philosopher Judith Butler.

“We call for an end to the systemic state violence against women in Iran and support their struggles for equality, justice and freedom,” reads the letter. “We are committed to the struggle of the people in Iran for justice and freedom.”

Iranian photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian used Instagram to draw attention to Amini’s death, posting one of her own photographs which depicts a young woman standing alone on an empty street, dressed in black, and wearing a hijab as well as a bright red set of boxing gloves. Iranian visual artist Parastou Forouhar, who now lives in Germany, also spoke out on Instagram. “Words are mute in the expression of this pain, suffering and anger,” she wrote. “In expression of our absolute disgust with you who are only suppressed by force.”

Artist Armita Raafat posted videos of protests at Tehran University: “Woman, life, freedom,” which has become a slogan for the recent protests, is written in bold overlay. Other artists, like the Guerrilla Girls, shared resources to help demonstrators in Iran.

In Berlin on Monday, Kurdish artist Zehra Doğan staged a protest at the Iranian embassy, smearing a mixture of menstrual blood, henna, and hair on the building’s gate. Doğan was released from a Turkish prison in 2019 after serving an almost three-year sentence for “propaganda” after creating a digital painting of the Turkish military destroying a Kurdish city.

Artists cut their hair in an action held last week in front of Ontario’s legislative building. (photo courtesy Mehran Azarbad)

Last week, a group of Iranian-Canadian artists and activists organized an action outside of the legislative assembly in Ontario, Canada, where they were joined by other demonstrators in cutting their hair. The protest symbolically rejects the legally-enforced standard requiring hair — considered a mark of beauty — to be hidden under the hijab.

Toronto-based artist Simin Keramati, who moved to Canada from Iran at age 38, was one of the event’s organizers. Her politically driven painting, mixed media, and video works confront the injustices facing women in Iran while embracing her identity as an Iranian. Keramati told Hyperallergic that the artists involved in last week’s action want to “echo the voice of Iranian women and their uprisings against the oppressive regime of Iran.”

“We stand with the Iranian women who are opposing the state of patriarchy and are asking for the freedom of choice for their own bodies,” Keramati said. “We believe in freedom of expression for women and every human being.”

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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