They began on the other side of the world, but the mass protests over women’s rights that began in Iran a year ago continue to echo across the globe. Those reverberations reach Westport late …
They began on the other side of the world, but the mass protests over women’s rights that began in Iran a year ago continue to echo across the globe. Those reverberations reach Westport late this week, when a new exhibit explores the work of one of the more notable protest artists to capture the continuing movement.
“Echoes of a Rebellion: Meysam Azarzad’s Visual Chronicle of the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ Uprising,” opens at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery at 6 p.m. Friday, coinciding with scores of other one-year anniversary events across the globe. The exhibit is curated by Westport’s Merri Cyr and Pamela Karimi, a professor of the history of art at UMass Dartmouth, and runs for two weekends.
Azarzad, an underground graphic artist, uses bold colors and line work to tell the stories of those who gave much, and in many cases everything, in protest of Iran’s restrictive and violent social policies and dress codes. Working in quotes from an ancient text considered one of the cornerstones of Persian literature, Azarzad’s memorializes those who fought and died at the hands of the regime. They include Sarina Esmailzadeh, who was 16 when she died after being beaten by Iran’s so-called morality police, Nika Shahkarami, and Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, 22, who was arrested, and later beaten to death for not wearing a hijab. It was her death that led to nationwide protests.
“From then on, a roar emerged from Iran. Conflict and turmoil arose from every direction,” Azarzad’s piece on her reads.
The quote is from the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), an 11th century epic poem that in some ways is akin to Homer’s ‘Iliad’ for its cultural prominence the society that created it. It is hugely influential in Iran, and Karimi said the artist’s use of quotes from within the text made an impression on her when she began reading about the protests a year ago:
“When the uprising happened, a lot of artists started to produce art,” Karimi said. “He started producing these images very early on and they caught my attention because the images are very bold, and most importantly, juxtaposed with verses from the Shahnameh. It was very appropriate.”
Karimi began corresponding with Azarzad, who is from Tehran, mostly through Instagram. Though he had to change his handle many times to remain anonymous, he trusted her.
“We stayed in touch and I continued my connection with him over the year, until Merri came up with the idea of doing this exhibit.”
“I was in contact with her and it just came up in conversation,” Cyr said. “She was talking about the anniversary and I asked her if she was having an exhibition of Iranian artists — she pointed out Meysam as a primary person.”
When the artist agreed to a showing, Cyr and Karimi corresponded with him extensively to come up with a good representation of his work, and received high resolution versions of many of his pieces. In all, 42 works make up the exhibit.
Karimi said that while the protests and issues that spurred them may seem a world away from Westport, the themes Azarzad explores in his work are universal. She believes it is important to share them with Westporters, especially those the same age as many of the girls and young women who died for the crime of expressing themselves.
“Why shouldn’t they care?”, she asked Friday. “Kids in Westport need to know about the outside world. A lot of people think this is the first feminist revolution in the world, and if they can see that a 16-year-old girl gave her life for freedom of expression, that is extremely inspiring.”
Note: Friday’s 6 p.m. opening will feature a talk by Karimi at 6:30 p.m. The exhibit continues the following two weekends, from noon to 5 p.m. The gallery is located at 1 Partners’ Lane.