The art of rebellion

One year after the assassination of Mahsa Amini by the security forces, the Iranian people's thirst for justice and freedom remains unquenched. Opponents of the regime seem to have found a new secret weapon against oppression: art.

In Tehran, creativity has become the ultimate tool for resisting the Mullahs

The battered streets of Tehran are now bathed in new colors. In their wake, demonstrators have transformed the capital, covering its walls with graffiti, sketching female portraits or inscribing the slogan "Woman, Life, Freedom". Hymns of hope and subversive songs followed the cries of despair of the protesters, several hundred of whom were shot dead during the uprisings. Today, although the riots have lost some of their intensity, the protests continue in an unprecedented form. In Iran's metropolises and medium-sized towns, resistance is expressed through insurgent guitars and rebellious pencils, illuminating the Persian shadows of this struggle for dignity.

Graphic Arts : paintbrushes versus batons

As the cradle of Persian miniature art, it's hardly surprising that in Iran, the battle is fought with brushes. The first Iranian caricatures appeared in the early 20th century. They first illustrated regional periodicals such as the Azerbaijani weekly Mulla Nasruddîn, before spreading to local satirical magazines such as Gol Agha and Tavana (closed in 2001). Even in the midst of the revolution, cartoonists did not put down their pencils. In 1990, Iranian cartoonist Nick Ahang Kowsar did not hesitate to depict Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi as a crocodile with sharp fangs.

In 2024, the graphic arts are no longer simply the emblem of resistance through humor. They now serve as a collective memory for all the victims of the Mullahs' repression. On the other side of the Atlantic, murals paying tribute to Iranian women now adorn the facades of American buildings. At 7753 Melrose Avenue, Iranian-American artist Cloe Hakakian has created a mural of Mahsa Amini. Proud and serene, the face of this 22-year-old Iranian Kurd is bathed in light, while the colors of the Iranian flag float in her hair.

At a time when the virtual world seems to be gradually supplanting the real world, social networks are playing an essential role in the visibility of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. The @Iranianwomengraphicdesign Instagram account is brimming with committed illustrations, including numerous sketches of emancipated women or of Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand, yesterday beaten by the morality police, today icons of revolt. @Iranianwomengraphicdesign already has over thirty-eight thousand subscribers and deserves even more!

Movies: a bulwark against oppression

Another instrument of protest, scenic representation is an extension of graphic representation: a man dressed in black sits on the steps of a staircase. Beside him stands a woman with her hair uncovered, her eyes riveted to the camera. They are soon joined by other ghostly-looking actors. All stand motionless and unmoving at the front of the stage. Published on instagram, the latest performance by playwright Hamid Pourazari and actress Sohleila Golestani is striking for its political commitment. Pourazari writes in the caption to his post: "The show ends. Reality reveals itself. Our real heroes are anonymous people. We don't erase our mistakes. We try again and we learn. The paths are many and the hope for a new day is immense. Woman, life, freedom."  

Since 1979, cinema has been a restricted art form. In 2010, emblematic filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced and placed under house arrest on the grounds of "propaganda against the regime". Despite this straitjacket, Iranian filmmakers manage to bend the limits to express their demands. Bahman Ghobadi is the figurehead of this position. In his film, “No One Knows About Persian Cats”, the director portrays Iran's underground youth and their love of rock music, which is banned in the country.

Directed by playwright Hamid Pourazari and actress Sohleila Golestan (Reddit)

Music : keys of the guitar will free the forbidden

All non-folk music imported from the West is considered subversive. In fact, no woman is allowed to sing in English. But is the country really closed to pop-rock culture ? In a country where the crazy rhythms of artists such as Googoosh and Dariush are part of the heritage, rebellion is made of music. In 2021, Barayé, the song by Shervin Hajipour. This hymn to protest has been covered by Coldplay, Marjane Satrapi and Benjamin Biolay. Remixed by Iranian DJ Sonami, Barayé is described as a way of protesting and demanding freedom and happiness.

At the end of December 2023, a 70-year-old fishmonger enters the dance. His frenzied choreography in a small market in Racht, northern Iran, went viral. Although it is forbidden to dance in public, the video shows the old man clapping his hands and encouraging passers-by to join in. With over 500,000 likes on his Instagram account, "Uncle Sadegh", as he is nicknamed, never expected to reap such success. These acts of creation, though perceived as acts of transgression, are acts of courage, will and determination. In his Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie points out that, in the process of creating, the artist takes risks, thus demonstrating his heroism.

Sources :

Marjane Satrapi (2023), Woman life freedom, Iconoclaste

Sources images :

Los Angeles: mural of Mahsa Amini by artist Cloe Hakakian (Spectrum News/Anna Albaryan)