Creating Revolution

Art Exhibition Fights for Iranian Women’s Freedom

by Jenaya Shaw | 03.16.23 | Events, Features, News

Zan. Zendegi. Azadi. Woman. Life. Freedom.   Tape edges the hard canvas. A wide mink brush quickly coats the snow-white surface in cerulean acrylic. By Sogol’s hand, delicate and soft, the image of an evening sky over the horizon begins to form. The smell of cool paint coils around her in the air.  In a […]
Sogol's painting for the Iranian Art Exhibition featuring a white tower behind paint-covered hands raised in peace signs

Zan. Zendegi. Azadi.

Woman. Life. Freedom.

 

Tape edges the hard canvas. A wide mink brush quickly coats the snow-white surface in cerulean acrylic. By Sogol’s hand, delicate and soft, the image of an evening sky over the horizon begins to form. The smell of cool paint coils around her in the air. 

In a fiery orange, the light of the setting sun spreads across the canvas. It fades into a neutral blue foundation at the painting’s base. 

She cracks a window and waits for the acrylic to dry. 

VIU student Sogol—a Persian immigrant—fights for her rights as a woman and as a citizen of Iran.

Along the tape in a thick black marker, Sogol marks out exactly where the to-be images are in the painting, from the points of the gleaming white Azadi Tower above, down to the wrists of hands below. 

With the threat in Iran to her family and many others, her surname has been excluded. 

Seemingly within seconds, that same wide brush collides with thick drops of white paint and fills  in the tower’s outline. 

She fights alongside all Persians—students and workers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters—chanting, crying out in Farsi.

Sogol forms a peace sign with her left hand, then her right. Using them as reference, she copies her hands on the canvas in a light pencil. She paints them in various shades and tones, representing all complexions in Iran. The hands reach to the sky in peace.

Bi-Sharaf! / بی شرف / Disgraceful!

Their fingertips and palms are splashed in crimson, emerald, porcelain, and gold—the colours of the pre- Islamic Republic flag and the scarlet blood of its victims.

Marg Bar Dictator! /مرگ بر دیکتاتور / Death to Dictator!

And at the top, bold and proud, Sogol carefully paints in the Farsi phrase: 

Zan. Zendegi. Azadi. / زن، زندگی، آزادی  

*

The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran has brought about many inspirational and motivational works of art. It is not just women’s freedom the people fight for—it is freedom for all citizens of Iran.

As part of the movement, the Iranian-Canadian Cultural Society of Vancouver Island (IranVI) is opening their Woman, Life, Freedom art exhibition at VIU this month. 

The exhibition will be displayed in the Malaspina Theatre from March 17 to April 7, beginning just one week after March 2023 was proclaimed the City of Nanaimo’s “Woman, Life, Freedom Month.” 

Sogol has submitted her painting to the exhibition as a representation of the movement for her.

Last month, IranVI invited artists living on Vancouver Island to submit uprising-related artwork of all mediums for consideration in their upcoming exhibition.

Every voice matters as protests reoccur all over the world.

In 1979, the Imperial State of Iran was overthrown by the Iranian Revolution, replacing the monarchy with a dictatorship known as the Islamic Republic.

Over the years, the regime has used violent tactics to scare and suppress its citizens. The republic sent away those who didn’t support it, believing this would save them from a revolution.

After these families fled, their children grew up in free countries where they could practice their Persian traditions, learning to love their country from afar.

But no free country could fill the hole of Iran—their home.

Sogol emphasizes the influence of Persian art.

Her voice is strained, but remains strong and dignified. She sits in her home of white polished marble and cut stone, and kneels before her canvas.

“Art is a big part of our culture in Iran,” she says. “A lot of art has come out from this movement. It feels right to create an art piece to represent what is happening.”

When she was younger, Sogol’s mother would draw pictures for her to colour. “It was a way to connect,” she says. Sogol, her mother, and brother are all gifted in the arts. It is a talent the three of them share and, in Persian culture, family bonds are powerful.

For Sogol, art is personal and has been integrated throughout her life. But between work and university, she finds it hard to find the time to create.

“Somewhere along the way, it stopped being about the act of doing art and started being about the final product,” she says. This killed her motivation. 

“I do enjoy drawing when I’m sad or angry,” Sogol explains. Art is a valuable outlet for her and her best pieces come from strong emotions. 

The Iranian Rights Movement is about fighting for freedom of expression.

“Even in our history, we have always been attracted to art,” she says. “Whether it is poetry, music, paintings, statues … art is how we express ourselves because our voices are silenced.”

Many Persian singers have been arrested in Iran for their revolutionary music.

Shervin Hajipour was arrested two days after his song, “Baraye,” was released. It is now considered the anthem for the Iranian Rights Movement, and has won him a Grammy for the “Best Song for Social Change.” He has since been released from prison.

However, some artists like Toomaj Salehi could face execution.

Salehi has been imprisoned since last October. His music is often centered around “waking up and fighting for freedom,” Sogol explains.

This isn’t the first time Salehi has faced time behind bars for his revolutionary lyrics, but many Iranians fear it will be his last. He currently sits in solitary confinement, awaiting his sentence.

“He is our hero,” Sogol says. “[His music] is a call to action.”

Media and pop culture has always created change in our lives.

While Malaspina Theatre’s art exhibition is a great way to spread awareness, it also supports VIU’s Persian students.

“Persian people are of rich culture, with a rich history,” Sogol says. Understanding their national pride and courage is what makes the revolution so moving.

As the head of IranVI, Kian shares this sentiment. 

“When you pursue something, it gives you pride,” he said at Nanaimo’s February 11 rally.

Kian, whose surname has also been excluded for safety, organized the Woman, Life, Freedom Rally on Commercial Street.

“My roots are in the ground, in Iran, but my leaves and branches grow in Canada,” he said. Kian can grow with his family and friends in the city of Nanaimo, where he can speak out and sing without fear. 

It was an important day to protest—with the old flag held high in the air of mothers and sons, and candles lit on a table with the names and faces of all those lost in recent months. February 11, 1979 was the day the Islamic Republic took over Iran.

“My seven-month-old baby is the fruit of my life,” Kian said. “He is a Canadian, but he comes from me—I want him to be proud of having Iranian parents.”

In September 2022, Mahsa Amini was murdered by the Islamic Republic’s Morality Police for the apparent misuse of her hijab.

This fanned a fire of protests across the globe—a fire that cannot be extinguished until the Islamic regime is overthrown.

Kian emphasized that Iranians are fighting for something as simple as wearing whatever clothes they want. “That’s a basic human right,” he said. “It needs to be written in law, like in democratic societies.”

To be able to chant woman, life, freedom, without fear is something Canadians take for granted.

He explained that the slogan itself came from the Kurdistan Province in Iran, after Mahsa Amini—a woman—died in police custody. 

Then, he talked about life. Woman creates life. And on top of that, so many Iranians have lost their lives under the regime. The republic took more than 900 lives (the majority of which were executed) in 2022 and has arrested over 19k people in recent months. 

And everyone deserves the freedom to live.

“The current regime in Iran—is not living,” Kian said.

“You’re not allowed to dance in the streets,” he explained. “Freedom is about freedom of expression. Freedom for gender equality and sexual orientation; freedom for minorities from Afghanistan that immigrate there. Freedom for all.”

Sogol believes that nothing will change without international support. 

“Without it, there is no pressure on the Iranian government to change.”

The more that the rest of the world sees the truth happening in Iran, the more likely the Iranian government is to step down.

As Sogol creates this piece of expression, her cause is clear. So too is her pain.

The people she has lost.

Her family, suffering in Iran.

But it is the limitation of where she currently lives that makes her want to fight harder.

“It’s not just a movement,” she says.

“It’s a revolution.”

Headshot of Jenaya Shaw
Editor

Jenaya is a multi-genre writer and artist in her third year as a Creative Writing student. She spends her free time building a portfolio of tattoo designs and dreams of studying in Australia and Taiwan, publishing novels and tattooing.

"“Even in our history, we have always been attracted to art,” she says. “Whether it is poetry, music, paintings, statues … art is how we express ourselves because our voices are silenced.”"
"“My seven-month-old baby is the fruit of my life,” Kian said. “He is a Canadian, but he comes from me—I want him to be proud of having Iranian parents.”"

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