Crackdown tactics: How Iran is trying to quell the Mahsa Amini protests
The affected fountains are in culturally significant places, including one in Daneshjoo Park, near the City Theatre, which has been subject to government censorship, and another in front of the Iranian Artists Forum, an interdisciplinary arts space founded under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami.
According to the Voice of America, citing the BBC’s Persian Service, the fountains have since been emptied. But for a while, the short-lived artwork served as a visceral reminder of the sacrifices made in the name of women’s rights.
The weeks-long protests in Iran began in mid-September, after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by “vice police” for allegedly wearing a hijab incorrectly and died in custody. The death fueled sprawling protests. The schoolgirls took off their headgear and raised their middle fingers. Women burned their hijabs and cut their hair. People took to the streets chanting “Women, Life, Freedom” and “Death to the Dictator”, a reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Pamela Karimi – an art historian at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth who recently published a book on contemporary Iranian art called “Alternative Iran” – said artists are at the center of this protest movement. “Unfortunately, over the past 40 years, they have not been able to create political groups that can stand up to the government,” she said, pointing to the failure of progressive Iran. movement. “Because of this, art has become a tool in people’s hands to communicate their dissatisfaction with the system.”
But the art that has emerged during the protests — illustrations depicting women cutting their hair, for example — stands out for its directness, Karimi said.
In a country where the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all art, Karimi says artists usually bend the rules by seeking out alternative spaces for artistic creation – dilapidated factories, empty warehouses – and by being shy about their messages.
“Iranian art is very complicated. You can’t just describe it in black and white, in a simple way,” Karimi said. “Sometimes when you talk to Iranian artists, they don’t even talk to you directly about their political position. You have to read between the lines. »
The blood red water dye might seem a little on the nose in comparison, but that’s the point. “Now what we’re seeing on the internet these days is a flood of images that are very bold, very revolutionary in nature, and don’t shy away from saying what they mean. This kind of art is therefore unique to this movement,” Karimi said.
Dye fountains are not a new idea. Animal rights protesters have poured fake blood into fountains in London’s Trafalgar Square to draw attention to factory farming. And in 2017, a man reddened the Trevi Fountain to protest against corruption in Rome.
In Iran, however, these practices have special significance as a way of honoring the dead. Karimi, who spent part of her childhood in Tehran, remembers visiting the city of Mashhad after the Iranian revolution and seeing fountains dyed red in remembrance of the martyrs. Tehran’s Behesth-e Zahra Cemetery once had a pond with a red-flowing fountain – known as the Blood Pool – to commemorate those who died in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
With this most recent iteration, Karimi says the artist’s choice to stay out of the spotlight adds to the work and reflects the strength of the protest movement in Iran. “The beautiful thing is that the artist himself is anonymous. Art is not just something you use to promote your own profile,” she said. Instead, it’s something more altruistic: “The anonymity shows that art is now pure activism. ”