Drive north on Main Street through Los Angeles’s fashion district and a striking new mural is visible just past Interstate 10. Against a backdrop of green, white, and red — the colors of the Iranian flag — the faces of 13 women who have lost their lives at the hands of the Iranian regime are depicted in stark black and white. Below them, their names, and others, are written on the palms of outstretched hands. Most of them were killed during the recent protests in response to the September death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, who was detained by Iran’s morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly and died in custody. “Women, Life, Freedom,” the originally Kurdish slogan that has become a rallying cry for the protests, is written in English and Farsi.
The mural is the work of Katrine Karimpour, who was approached by her friend Mojgan of Mona_E_Arts with a concept for the mural and a connection to the owners of the building at 1605 S. Main Street. Karimpour created the image on her iPad and it was then printed on two large panels of weather-resistant paper and hung on the building’s southern facade on November 27. The mural is just one example of Iranian-American artists in Los Angeles showing solidarity with the protesters in Iran.
For Karimpour, it is also a way to express a connection with family, despite the tumult of revolution and emigration. Her late grandfather and mother fled Iran just before the 1979 Revolution. “When it started, they said they would come to the US for a week til it died down,” but they ended up staying,” she told Hyperallergic. “[The regime] took all my family’s belongings, everything my grandfather had worked for, everything he owned.” She says her grandfather wrote poetry; however, she couldn’t read it, since she was never taught Farsi.
“Doing this, I thought about my baba the whole time,” Karimpour said of her work on the mural.
About 10 miles northwest of Karimpour’s mural, a nearly three-story-tall image of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini graces a wall in Fame Yard on Melrose, a hotspot for street art. Her hair, colored green, white, and red, spills out from her hijab, while the chains covering her head break apart.
“I used to stay away from everything political, but this is personal for me. This is not political, it’s about basic human rights,” artist Cloe Hakakian, who created the mural with Todd Goodman, told Hyperallergic. Hakakian was born in the US to parents who had emigrated shortly before the revolution, “otherwise I could have easily been one of those girls,” she said, referring to those killed in the recent demonstrations, who are in the hundreds.
Iran has already executed two people involved in the protests, with 25 others facing the death penalty, according to the Guardian. On Monday, Majidreza Rahnavard was publicly hanged from a crane in the city of Mashhad. He was accused of killing two members of the Basij militia. Last week, Mohsen Shekari was executed after he was convicted of “waging war against God” by a revolutionary court. He had been accused of blocking a street and injuring a militia member. Today, the United Nations announced its decision to remove Iran from its Commission on the Status of Women, thanks in part to campaigning by activists in the diaspora.
Since the mural went up in early October, Hakakian has shifted gears, connecting artists with building owners willing to offer up their walls for murals in support of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement through her “Murals for Freedom” website. The site lists murals across the globe, in San Diego; Washington, DC; London; Paris; Berlin; and Sydney, Australia. “Not all the artists are Iranian,” she notes. “It’s inspiring a lot of people outside of the community.”
Further West, in Santa Monica, the side of an office building now bears Rashin Kheiriyeh’s mural of a woman’s silhouetted head in profile, her hair rendered in sinuous, turquoise Persian calligraphy. Kheiriyeh created the mural before the death of Amini for a mural competition sponsored by the Farhang Foundation, a nonprofit that supports Iranian art and culture. After Amini’s death, Kheiriyeh posted an image of the mural to social media and added the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom.”
According to Alireza Ardekani, executive director of the Farhang Foundation, the group has other murals planned in Los Angeles in support of the movement, but has run up against a troubling issue with one artist selected for a mural at 1031 South Grand Avenue in Downtown LA. “The artist just informed me he’s under surveillance in Iran and being threatened. I offered to have the art anonymous, but his work is quite iconic,” Ardekani told Hyperallergic. “Murals are big in Iran. Before the uprising, artists had learned how to dance around red lines and go under the radar. Now they’re cracking down.”
Through these public artworks, artists in the Iranian diaspora are able to speak to — and amplify — those whose voices are being stifled.
“Culturally I felt very in the middle. This was something that could feel so personal to me, but this isn’t about just me. It’s about all the women who are fighting for their future and future generations,” Karimpour said. “What art can do is amplify those who are not being heard. We are their echoes.”