Interview with Saba Zavarei

Interview with Saba Zavarei

Bria Dinkins

Saba Zavarei is an Iranian artist-activist, researcher, and writer. Her main interests concern the body and everyday performances, the politics of space, the urban condition, and contemporary art, especially as they relate to both gender studies and Iran. She is guided by the fundamental idea of “research as practice” and enjoys working with multimedia. She received her BA from the University of Tehran, her MFA from Chelsea College of Art and Design, and is about to finish her Ph.D. at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Throughout her career, she has worked on various pieces and enterprises including her impromptu Sleeping with Tehran (2013), on-going and shared Radio Khiaban (2018-), and a newly co-founded publication, Konesh. Having been published in both peer-reviewed academic journals and news publications, Zavarei’s various undertakings are interrelated. Overall, Zavarei’s practice, which often calls attention to, and challenges, the implicit rules of society and space, and which presents new opportunities for dialogue amongst diverse thinkers across borders, begs the question: What is up (next) with socially-engaged art?

In this interview, Saba Zavarei sheds light on her background and positionality, past and present projects and methodology, as well as the challenges of practicing activist-art in Iran. Expressing her viewpoint on a cluster of topics, ranging from the meaning of bridge-building to the impact of the Iranian Revolution on her generation, she explores the possibilities of artistic practice in Iran now, and for the future. This interview took place virtually over email between herself and FIELD editor Bria Dinkins.

Bria Dinkins: What led you to become an artist/activist? When you were younger what did you aspire to be and when did it become apparent that this was your path?

Saba Zavarei: I always wanted to become a writer and a traveler when I was a child. I have loved reading, writing and literature since I can remember. But during school, I disliked art classes. The art they taught us at school was only painting in the most traditional manner. Imitation of reality was most applauded. The other thing they taught as art was calligraphy. I did appreciate and enjoy the details and skillfulness of it, but as a child, I couldn’t find anything creative about it. I couldn’t express myself through it and found those art classes very oppressive and controlling. I was drawn to theatre and created a theatre group when I was twelve with which we staged Parya (The Fairies), a long folklore lyric by Ahmad Shamlou, about people resisting and protesting against oppressive rulers. We had to challenge the school authorities to get permission to perform it, and we did! It was at high school when for the first time I was exposed to more modern notions of art. One very exciting encounter with art in this new meaning was an exhibition of “conceptual art” at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art when I was sixteen. In those days, that was the beginning of an opening up of new art forms in spaces that were accessible to the public in Iran.

I studied architecture for my BA and towards the end, I realized I wanted to tell stories about people and places and question things rather than design. I took some classes on contemporary art outside of the University. And soon I knew contemporary art and performance were what I wanted. In order to study art, expand my horizons and explore life in a totally different social setting, I moved to London.

I was raised in a very politically left-leaning family. So, discussing political and social issues was an everyday practice in our home. My parents were very cultured as well. One of the best places in the world was their bookcase, which was filled with revolutionary literature. As a kid, I used to sneak into it and gaze at the books on protest and resistance from Palestine, to Latin America, to Vietnam. I already felt like a comrade bonding with other rebels and fighters for social justice around the world. When I was thirteen, my great uncle, Mohammad Mokhtari, who was a well-known writer and intellectual, was kidnapped and murdered. With his sudden death, which was part of a chain of murders of intellectuals in 1998, I suddenly felt pushed into the world of adults. I poured this pain into my writings and realized those stories of resistance and protest against tyranny were very much real.

Writing has remained the most important part of my work and art practice until today. From the ages of 18 to 24 I traveled a lot around Iran. Those trips opened my eyes to many things, from understanding my gendered body in a patriarchal society, to how uneven and fragmented Iranian society was. I was a student in architecture back then. I think I got frustrated with not being able to express those thoughts and feelings through architecture. It’s been in the past six years, and especially since focusing on my Ph.D. thesis, that I began to create a way of bringing my social and political concerns to my art and writing practice and I found myself as an artist, writer and researcher who wants to intervene into hegemonic orders to push through cracks and open up space for alternative performances.

Saba Zavarei. Photograph courtesy of Saba Zavarei

BD: Who is your targeted audience? What are you hoping the interaction between art and non-artists/viewers is?

SZ: It depends on each project or work I start. I need to create a unique language for each group of audiences separately. But generally speaking, I love working with the public and not the art educated elite. I love my work to be accessible to a big audience and get them engaged in a discourse I am trying to create or contribute to. This is highly challenging for me as sometimes the theoretical aspects behind the work are set in a dry, sophisticated academic language, but I do believe they are inspired by reality, so they also have translation and interpretation in everyday life. I look for those aspects of everyday life. The interaction would be an open-ended conversation over something that I have initiated or picked up, but I do not have control over the ending, nor do I want to. During my first years as an art student I focused on interactive performances that I set-up and left unfinished for the audience to change the ending. In the past few years, I’ve gotten more into creating a collective by gathering individuals’ interventions and stories, as well as individually intervening in the social fabric myself. What I do now moves somewhere between performance, oral history, site-specific, participatory, socially-engaged, and community art. A big part of my writing is also self-reflective and autobiographical, with concerns of the body, space, gender, and transgression.

BD:  You’ve been described as “stretched” between Tehran and London. What are the advantages or disadvantages, challenges, or necessities of doing work in both Tehran and London or other cultural hubs?

SZ: I describe myself as stretched as I don’t think of myself fully settled in either Tehran or London, or even both. There are many in-between conditions that I experience which do not belong to either of these geographies. I’m an insider and outsider to both, somewhere in between. I think the condition of stretched is the only term that can capture my spatial experience. The advantage and disadvantage are both derived from this in-between-ness. It gives me a critical distance to reflect on things, and to analyze; at the same time, it sometimes leaves me outside of things, without fully being part of them. Pragmatically, the distance from Iran also provides me with the privilege of safety and security for my activities, which I strongly feel committed to take advantage of, in favor of those who don’t have it.

BD: What problems do you encounter working in multiple locations and working more thematically (with an emphasis on globality/borderlessness)? How do you approach them?

SZ: I mostly live in London, with the privileges of safety and freedom of speech. In my work, I try to take advantage of these privileges for those who are living in the oppressive society of Iran. The main challenge is how not to endanger those who participate in my work. My other concern is not to misrepresent, and objectify them. I have presented and shown my work in many countries, from Japan to Egypt to the United States. What I’ve learnt is that the struggle over space and gender, which has been the focus of my work for the last four years, is global. So instead of framing my work as on “Iranian women” and confining the topic and fetishizing it, I try to create bridges and connections to struggles of gender and space in other patriarchal geographies. This is how I intend to go global and cross the borders. Besides these political borders, we, women and non-binary people, are all in one way or another fighting for an equal share of the society and public sphere. In this sense my work is border-less. I also often try to contextualize my work in a historical background. This also helps a global audience to relate to the work as they find parts of this history of struggle and resistance, close to what they’ve gone through historically.

BD: How did you come up with the idea for Radio Khiaban? What were the logistics, difficulties you encountered, and tensions you had to grapple with as you began with the project and continue to do so now?

SZ: I had special feelings for Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan in central Iran and I admired and loved it since I was a teenager. In 2014 I was back in Iran and traveling to Isfahan, I found myself alone in the mosque and decided to sing and record in it. The video of me singing a love song for Iran, unveiled, went viral on social media. I was invited to the Lagos Biennial in 2017 and the theme for the exhibition was “artist on the edge.” They invited me based on this particular performance and how it affected my life. I decided to play with this idea of not being able to go back and not having physical access to that place. I invited women in Iran to sing in public spaces, which is not unlawful but banned by the authorities, through my Instagram account. I was expecting to receive 30/40 responses so I could put all these videos together to make a longer video for the exhibition and the biennial. In less than 24 hours I received more than 1000 responses. It was so overwhelming that I fell into a fever! It was then that I decided that I had to do something ongoing with these singing interventions, something for as long as the discriminations against women were in place. This involved working on a new scale that I had no experience with. Learning little by little what to do with all these willing participants was the main challenge in the beginning. It took me almost a year to establish a podcast. I decided that radio was the right medium, as it’s part of the public space. When you think of the sound of public space, radio is always part of it. Now imagine in the patriarchal society of Iran, where women are banned from singing in public, where hijab is compulsory and they are constantly being policed for their outfits and behaviors to conform with the Islamic codes, radio is redefined in a way that it’s all about women’s presence and transgressive acts in public and their voice on the streets! Khiaban means street in Farsi. I wanted the irony. When you say Khiaban it sounds very brutal and exclusive of women, but all of a sudden you hear women singing and talking about their experiences of transgressive performances in public space, of them reclaiming the street.

Radio Khiaban, photograph courtesy of Saba Zavarei

BD: In your project, Sleeping with Tehran, you were the main subject of your work. How did you come to envision that project and what themes were you thinking about when envisioning it? What were you hoping would come of it? How would you describe the project?

SZ: It was quite a spontaneous project. Most of the critical thinking and analysis came only after. I was in Tehran after an overland trip from London during which I questioned how I stretched between the two homes and the gradual changes between the two cities, including my gender identity, how I became another woman arriving in Tehran. This was a project that I am now turning into a book “stretched; between two homes”. The Tehran I left in 2010 was for me the place of the brutal oppression of the Green movement protests, which I was a part of. For a year we demonstrated on the streets and we got brutally oppressed. My memories of Tehran were filled with brutality and the violence of the police and basij, mixed with sexual harassment, constant policing and exclusion. I was angry with the city that I loved the most. I hated it; I was hurt by it, yet I was in love with it. I took my bedding to the streets to create an intimate moment with a city that had raped me in many ways, killing my dreams in front of my eyes, shooting at my hopes, and leaving me but one way to leave. I went on the streets and as soon as I was there with my duvet and pillow, I realized it was going to be painful to trust Tehran, to close my eyes and let myself drift away. I was looking for intimacy, with a place I couldn’t trust, I never belonged to, but I loved it and I so wanted it to be mine. I think during the trip I was getting more and more conscious about how my body was gendered and I saw the whole trip as a way of intervening in space. So, my attempt to find intimacy with the public spaces of Tehran, to transgress the patriarchal norms that prevent a female body from lying down easily on the streets, was perhaps a consequence of those steps I took between London and Tehran. I was going to reclaim the city with my body out of place.

BD: More generally, what is your process like as an artist, activist and researcher from a projects conception to its fulfillment? What principles guide your work?

SZ: Intervention is at the core of my work process. Usually I am interested in finding contradictions, cracks and transgressions in a seemingly fixed, working hegemonic narrative and structure, particularly spatial politics in relation to performances. I look for bodies out of place. Then I start working on the cracks they create and how I can push them to open them up further, to distort and disturb that hegemonic narrative. I think the fulfillment happens when I think I have critically enough engaged with the context and have exposed the partiality of the authoritative definitions of body and space, and have opened the issue to fresh interpretations through analyzing and documenting those ephemeral performances. This doesn’t necessarily mark the end of that project. For example with Radio Khiaban as I said, it’s an ongoing project, and I aim to keep it going for as long as gender segregation is a major spatial strategy for the Islamic Republic to push women back to the domestic spaces and deprive them of an equal share of the public space.

Konesh Journal, photograph courtesy of Saba Zavarei

BD:  Your journal and platform, Konesh, emphasizes the diversity of perspectives you bring—artists, activists, politicians, architects, etc. from Tehran, London, and elsewhere participate in the journal. Global and multi-faceted/intersectional approaches seem very essential to Konesh. How did you and your co-founder(s) come up with the idea? What space do you feel like Konesh fills/what roles does it play? How do you envision its function?

SZ: Since 2016 I was thinking that what I was fascinated about in both academia and in my art practice, is very much scattered over several disciplines. To me, there was a connection, but I couldn’t see a recognized link between them in academia. “Space” was a topic of study in many fields such as architecture, art, geography, politics, sociology, literature and gender studies, but those studies were disconnected. I was inspired by Jane Rendell’s idea of “critical spatial practice,” and I was so in love with the word Konesh, which means both “act” and “activism” in Farsi and carries connotations of both performativity and activism at the same time. In 2017, when I discussed the idea with Vannessa Lehman, also a Ph.D. fellow at Goldsmiths, we totally clicked on the idea and we both had similar concerns regarding “space” across disciplines. We thought of creating a platform on space as a social construct, accessible from any discipline or practical background. Over a few months of meetings and conversations, we decided that Konesh would be a migrating platform geographically unsettled to bring any critical engagement with space together. We have curated two site-specific events in Cairo and London and have published two print edited collections, SCALE and TRACE, and we see ourselves in the future more as a creative and critical platform for cultural interventions into the politics of space. Konesh is gradually creating a network of those whose work concerns the politics of space and spatial justice. Our strength is to blur boundaries and question what happens if we “think space,” instead of through disciplines about space? We hope this thinking enables and empowers us in redefining, redesigning, and decolonizing space.

BD:  What aesthetic, research-based and collaborative strategies are being utilized by Iranian activist-artists?

SZ: It’s not possible to give a comprehensive answer to this question in only a few lines, but from what I’ve observed and contributed to in the past ten years, I think certain paths are recognizable. There is more interest in performance and temporality in the activist artworks. Ephemerality is one of the key tactics used by artist-activists to overcome the hegemonic control exercised over space by the authorities. Therefore, you see more and more protest performances, graffiti works and unexpected installations here and there in public space in Iran. Sometimes the artists frame these events and present them as artworks. In many cases they leave no traces of themselves, leaving the audience in limbo to decide whether this was an artwork or an act of protest, or perhaps both. Creating this limbo itself is a smart political act I would argue, when being categorized as either could potentially be risky. Spatially, at least two main approaches are being adopted: integrating real and virtual space and moving away from the center. In the former, social media and online platforms can provide the privilege of anonymity, as well as reaching much larger audiences. In the latter, I think many cultural activists are finding out that outside of the big cities, there are fewer watchful eyes and monitoring on their activities and they can exercise a little more social freedom.

Regarding research strategies, I recognize two main approaches: rereading the archives and contextualizing Iranian art and research in connection with global discourses. I see young artists and activists passionately referring to the heritage of art and activism in Iran. This rereading, I would suggest, is an attempt to rediscover a history that has been hidden away from them and covered in lies that have been spoon-fed to them by the state media and also through official education. I remember the first time I learned about women’s movements in Iran during the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911). I was so shocked. I was a university student at that time and I got very embarrassed that I had never heard about women’s fights for equality in Iran, over a century ago. There was not even one line referring to it in all the forced educational material I had to read at school for twelve years! The return to the archives and the rereading of history can help to decolonize it from the hegemonic narratives of the Islamic Republic, I would argue.

The other approach taken by the artists and activists is contextualizing their work within a wider intellectual and theoretical context, in the world. They link their practice and research to contemporary theories. This is also happening in their collaborations. Despite the very difficult circumstances affected by the unfair, heavy sanctions, the devaluation of money, and the visa situation, more than ever before Iranian artists and activists are collaborating with artists from other parts of the world. I would say even this in itself is a political attempt. In a situation when the politics of inside and outside of Iran is trying to isolate people and entrap them within their very own state boundaries, going over boundaries and borders represents a brave attempt to stay connected to the world. But collaboration is not only difficult with people outside. Inside Iran, any gathering can be considered an attempt to destabilize the “social order” and a threat against “national security”. This makes it really difficult for artists and especially artist-activists to gather and create collectives officially. So, what we see is more informal groups and gatherings, which deliberately stay low-profile in order to not attract much attention and to be able to keep working.

 BD: Technology and different mediums of dissemination allow artists like yourself to communicate with publics across the world. How do you find yourself and other Iranian artists navigating external perceptions of Iran in the art world and beyond it? What strategies do you use when engaging a global public or exhibiting your work across the world?

SZ: One major issue Iranian artists encounter, when addressing a global public, is the world’s lack of current knowledge about contemporary Iran and Iranian society. Although this has improved somehow in the past decade, especially within intellectual and cultural circles, there is still a generally poor understanding of current affairs in Iran, as well as the people. So inevitably a part of many projects related to Iran, is educating the audience about the social and political context. Going against this direction and refusing the extra labor of educating the audience is also another prevalent approach, which aims to deny the “otherness” of being Iranian, by refusing the “subordinate” position that has to justify or explain itself. In this case, the artist usually contextualizes their work within a global or regional discourse. I don’t find these approaches necessarily contradictory. They all strive for a better and more nuanced understanding of the subject of the work.

Depending on the project, I, personally, adopt different strategies. For example, with Radio Khiaban, I always try to give a historical context, going beyond the Revolution of 1979 so that I can emphasize how the issue of female bodies and space is nothing new in Iran, and how it has changed over time, and especially since the Revolution. Because I don’t want to implicitly confirm the inaccurate belief that the oppression of women in Iran began with the Revolution. Iran is currently the only country in the world that bans women from singing solo in public. So, I have to provide the audience with enough context to help them understand where this attitude comes from. In another example, I gathered stories about virginity from women, which is still a huge taboo, not only in Iran, but in many cultures across the world, and made a performance piece based on the stories. When I performed that piece in the U.S., I used Farsi in my storytelling, but didn’t mention any specific geography. After the performance, women from different parts of the world, including Americans, expressed to me how they had related to the work in one way or another. Although the stories were collected from Iranian friends, I didn’t see the need to frame the work as Iranian, or to contextualize it as such, because the questions I was trying to address existed beyond any national context. Interestingly, both projects created debates among audiences, which linked their lived experiences from across the world, with the works. So, they both were successful in not objectifying the stories, and creating bridges and connections across cultures and borders.

BD: Your work is particularly centered around what you have deemed “the politics of the body in space,” specifically in an urban environment. How are other Iranian artists/artists in Iran engaging with other themes surrounding the public space, the body, and/or the everyday?

 SZ: Public space is where the civil society shapes itself and finds its fragments, where the collective body is born and exercises democracy and freedom, where people learn how to live together. More than seventy-five percent of the Iranian population today resides in cities, and is subjected to heavy surveillance and oppression. Bodies, public spaces and every single aspect of private and public life is under constant scrutiny and policing. Being critical about this situation inevitably leads the artist-activist to address the urban condition, and that leads to a probing of the politics of bodies, public space, and everyday practices.

There is definitely an increasing attention to, and interest in, space and the body in theory and practice in Iran. It’s so fascinating to observe how artists and activists, in search of change, are more and more returning to everyday life, the body and space. Discussing all the different approaches in this work is beyond the scope of this interview, but site-specificity, although not theoretically a dominant concept in art schools and art writing, is quite prevalent in the works being produced today. Intervening in the social fabric by means of different mediums and practices, is an attempt to reclaim public space. Another interesting thing that is happening is the integration of social media and virtual space into physical space. The fact that anything happening in the real public space can be watched and accessed by millions of people through internet and satellite TVs, is inspiring people, including artists, to intervene more, and challenge the authoritative definitions of space. They reclaim the public spaces, through their everyday performances, in which their bodies are out of place.

BD: Have artist-activists in your generation decidedly distanced themselves from the revolution or oppositely, decided to lean the history to either preserve it or expand on it?

SZ: One important thing to bear in mind when talking about Iran is to realize that it’s a fragmented and uneven society, and I am by no means the voice of all people. I can in, the best possible situation, resemble the voice of some parts of the society, and my generation. When we talk about the 1979 Revolution, I think we need to separate the intentions and objectives that led to it, from what happened after the revolution and the political regime that was established afterwards. Cultural practitioners who still identify with the hopes and dreams of the revolution such as independence, freedom, equality and justice, sympathize with the mass protests and uprisings leading to the revolution. But, the increasing cruelty, violence, corruption and incapability of the Islamic regime, make them take a deliberate distance from the Islamic Republic state. There is an increasing attempt by this fraction of the society to boycott state-run festivals, funding and resources that are directly or indirectly tied to state budgets, and to cut collaboration with people associated with state power. The Islamic Republic still uses the 1979 revolution as its main rhetoric and heritage. In reaction to this, there is a return to the revolution by artist-activists, an effort to reread and reinterpret it, with the aim of decolonizing it from the Islamic regime’s narratives, and reclaiming a history of protest and resistance against tyranny, to learn lessons from this complicated history apart from the hegemonic state narratives.

 BD: We identify many characteristics of people based on the generation they belong to. What do you think, if anything, defines your generation of activists, artists, or both? What set of experiences or ways of looking are shared in your generation?

SZ: The generations born in the first decade after the revolution, lived their childhood through the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) and the 1980s oppression and mass executions of political prisoners by the newly established regime. Most families were affected in one way or another by these events, so they grew up in the midst of displacements from war zones, bombardments, losing family members either in the war or in political executions, or waiting for people to return from fronts or prisons. They witnessed how a religious dictatorship was established despite the hopes and dreams of many of those who participated in the revolution. This I think was part of the reason that “reform” and gradual change became their main discourse. I think one of the major shaping factors of this generation was the Green movement in 2009. It was their first experience of a collective social and political act of protest on a national scale. It was the first time that a sense of “we” was shaped among them, on a scale that went beyond their individual lifestyles and life choices.

Those peaceful protests were brutally oppressed and since then, negotiation with the regime for gradual change has proved impossible and the faith in the regime’s reformist gestures has been fading away. With the rapid devaluation of the currency due to international sanctions, corruption, and no sign of improvement and openness in the social and political situation, Iran has entered a new phase of unrest and protests. The age of seeking change through elections is over, and in the absence of democratic forms of participation, citizens have returned to the streets. In the last couple of years, any protest has been brutally oppressed, and many peaceful protesters have been killed or imprisoned. This has left the society, including this generation, in shock, anger and frustration, looking for new ways of expressing and articulating itself. This is the internet generation. They are educated, and very well aware of what is happening in the world. Many of them live in other countries, and many have studied abroad and returned to the country. The organic and strong connection between inside and outside is also an important characteristic of this generation, I think, which can accelerate transformation and change within the society towards what it desires.

BD: In an interview with Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, you voiced your opposition to the idea of nation-state declaring that you “never felt that I organized my thoughts in accordance with political/geographical boundaries”. Can you share your thoughts about how activist art in Iran (or generally) has the potential to transcend nation-state?

Immigration has taught me so many lessons. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that under the global capitalist economy, and political and military interventionism, problems are always going to be intertwined and inseparable, and if we want justice, freedom and equality in one place, we need to fight for it everywhere. We need to go beyond the nation-state to bring about real change in the world. Otherwise there will always be exploitation and intervention and we will always somehow be part of that chain. It’s impossible to cut ourselves out of that. There are incredible examples of protest movements that go beyond nation-states. One that always inspires me is the climate justice activists. They are well aware that global warming is not confined to national boundaries. The other wonderful example that I admire and very much feel belonging to, is gender equality movements. Finding sisterhood and other collective identities has been so liberating and empowering for me. Whenever I present my work in a feminist event, anywhere in the world, the amount of support and solidarity I receive surprises me. The Black Lives Matter movement is another amazing, inspiring example, of how people across the world have joined forces to challenge racial discrimination. In addition to these forms of solidarity with global activism, in Iran, we also need a regional bonding and connection with civil activists and movements in the neighboring countries in our region, since we suffer mostly from similar problems and causes. Our exchanges regarding our mutual history and our lived experiences of resistance and protest can be extremely valuable in fighting tyranny. To stop military and political interventions in the region we need solidarity, and to end religious extremism, we need to join forces.

 BD: Where do you feel activist art in Iran is heading? What do you believe or hope activist art looks like, or how might it function, in the future?

SZ: It’s really difficult to make any prediction at this point, but from the evidence I’ve seen, it seems that inevitably it’s getting more low key, anonymous, ephemeral and radical. This is positive in the sense that, away from the noise and attention, artist-activists can develop more effective projects, but at the same time, it’s not fruitful for such activities to be done in an entirely dispersed manner. Art needs presentation, criticism, discussion and debate. In the absence of the freedom necessary for open dialogues, the artists and cultural activists will be isolated. This can demotivate or discourage them from what they are doing. Solidarity is an important issue for those with social concerns. In the absence of that, they feel lonely, weak, vulnerable and isolated. That’s one of the reasons why people need to march and protest on the streets together. It might never actually change anything in that moment, but it’s a representation of the collective body, desiring change hand-in-hand. And that’s very powerful, and very crucial, when opposing a totalitarian dictatorship. The authorities in Iran constantly oppress any collectivity in physical form, and that’s why most of the debates and dialogues have moved to the virtual space. The social media platforms are quite dynamic and vibrant, with exciting and insightful ideas and debates.

Iranian scholar Asef Bayat argues that the reason we don’t have strong community activism in Iran is the authoritarian state, together with strong family and kinship bonds. I think if we look closely at Iranian society today, we will see traces of new attempts in art and activism to create and strengthen grassroots social groups, and hence community activism. Socially-engaged art, community-art, even critical pedagogical approaches are, although on very small scale, trying to rehabilitate and stabilize Iranian civil society, which is under tremendous pressure and is almost at the point of non-existence. In a dysfunctional civil society, there is more and more pressure placed on the shoulders of these civil activists every day. In a broken economy, and with a malfunctioning bureaucracy, activists are overwhelmed with issues to pay attention to. This exhaustion is evident on social media: hashtag after hashtag to address the constant flow of painful issues and problems. There is absolutely no break. I admire their inspiring energy, and their will and determination to change things. They are the defenders of humanity in Iranian society. In the words of Ahmad Shamlou, a very much loved Iranian poet, they are “seekers of joy, in volcanos’ paths, and magicians of smiles in nightcaps of pains”. These artists and activists are the messengers of hope and of change for a better tomorrow in Iran!

Bria Dinkins is a senior at Swarthmore College, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology & Art History. Currently, she is completing her thesis, which focuses on the re-making of the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia, and the language used to describe the protest surrounding it. She was recently selected as an undergraduate presenter for the College Art Association’s Annual Conference for her work about contemporary public art practice and the future of monuments (February 2021).

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