Some Artists, The Visual Language of Protest in Iran, Poupeh Missaghi

some artists
English

I began to see the artworks of Some Artists on Twitter during the most recent protests in Iran, in November 2019, which were met with one of the most violent crackdowns ever by the Iranian security forces, a crackdown that resulted, according to a recent Reuters report, in about 1,500 deaths in less than two weeks.

The artworks were minimal, imitating a paper material with a light ochre color similar to that of old newspapers, and a font that looked typed as with old typewriters, and was a reminder of old political handouts. They heavily relied on language as their material, both to inform about the details of the protests and the killings and to create and play with form.

Their bio did not say who the administrator of the page or the artists were and, in a way, considering the title of the collective, that didn’t really matter. I reached out to them through a Twitter private message, asking if they were open to an interview. What follows is the text they sent me, via email, in response to my questions, regarding their history, the nature of their collective, their aesthetic and political concerns, and their use of social media platforms. 

—Poupeh Missaghi

Some Artists:

Before we set up this page, we had some sessions with artists from different disciplines with the idea of starting an anonymous page that would function beyond individual egos or personal political and artistic orientations / affiliations . . . The more we tried, the less we succeeded. In the end, we decided to start with the minimum of what would comprise a “we.”

Following the protests of January 2018 and the ensuing silence of the middle class, artists and intellectuals in the face of protests by workers and the rise of the afflicted, we aimed to become a bridge. A visual cry for the afflicted and a platform where artists and intellectuals would be translated beyond class.

The first piece uploaded on Some Artists’ Facebook page was a video clip dedicated to Sina Ghanbari, entitled “(Far)yad” [“Cry 1”], on January 27, 2018.

We realized a lack of precedence of visual language for what we hoped to do, and this made our process hard. Whatever existed before then was either the literature and visual arts belonging to the era of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which felt aged, or the politicized visual language of the Green Movement of 2009; there was nothing else. To address the issue, we decided that a simplicity in form and content would be our only way to go.

This simplicity for that first video translated into using the most accessible material, which was cardboard, and using the existing graffiti “Free Sina Ghanbari” which, after his death, had been transformed into “Bring Sina Ghanbari to Life,” which we then changed into “Let’s Cry Out Sina Ghanbari.” Our intention was to move beyond the stage that victimized the killed protestors and cultivate an approach of continuous protest. That first video was viewed more than a thousand times, and we felt supported by the people.

After paying homage to a few other martyrs of the January 2018 protests, the “Girls of Enghelab Street” protests against compulsory hijab took place, coinciding with strikes and protests by workers of HEPCO, Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Complex, and AzarAb Industries. These forms of resistance became a turning point for our project, as they instigated further collaborations with more artists. This time the demand for bread and jobs was accompanied by a demand for freedom, initiated by the people themselves, in a spontaneous and bottom-up movement.

Beforehand, we the artists had been so ensnared by the demands of our own class that any action beyond that class seemed impossible. Now, the people were offering us what we had been searching for. Once again, we, the artists and the intellectuals, had lagged behind the social developments.

New forms of resistance were forming, forms that were their own kind of artwork and performance. We were witnessing creativity in people’s spontaneous slogans and forms of protest: headscarves mounted on wood sticks held by those protesting compulsory hijab standing on top of electrical power boxes, columns, and walls of the city, on the one hand; and tablecloths covered by workers with tree leaves symbolizing a protest against labor problems such as unpaid wages, on the other hand. The slogan “Death to Laborers, Viva the Tyrant,” on the one hand, and workers dancing and saying jokes in factories, on the other hand.

There we were once again, and there was a path that the people had shown us.

It was at this point that we developed further collaborations with diverse groups of visual artists. It was at this point that, perhaps for the first time in Iranian visual history, portraits of figures of the labor movement began to be used for artistic creation, with faces of activists such as Esmail Bakhshi, Ali Nejati, and Sepideh Gholian appearing in artists’ works.

It was at this point that political songs from the 1979 Revolution were sung in the subway by women protesting compulsory hijab, and not for the cause of a particular political party. It was at this point that we realized we were still continuing on the path of the revolution we had started several generations ago. And we, consequently, realized that the visual language of our page should also, in a way, be a continuation of that very path. Researching books and posters from that era, we were drawn to the layout and font of the so-called “white cover” or samizdat books, which had their peculiar visual identity. We extracted that identity and set out to use it as the main mode for the pieces we were producing for the page.

The page has been redefining itself continuously in response to the latest developments in both domestic and international movements. In the absence of free media, it also began to play the role of informing its audience about the news of the day, for example the arrests of environmental activists or labor activists and others, or finding similarities and sympathizing with protests across the globe, from Iraq, Lebanon, and Chile. Moreover, as a result of continuous government censorship and filtering of the internet affecting people’s access to different social media, the page has been expanding to and moving between different platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Believing in the necessity of a social movement led by artists, the page Some Artists has since its conception kept its collective outlook, even if there were stages when it remained active with only one active member. The Some Artists page is proof of a dream, the dream of art and artists who will forever stay with the people and against the power, the dream of art and artists who are not indifferent.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 17 Nov. 2019.

We do not see this poster!*

You, too, do not see this poster!

The stamp reads: On this date, 26th of Aban 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

* Because we are out in the streets, protesting for our most basic rights.
* Because we do not have internet access.

* Because you are cracking down on us in the streets.
* Because you’ve buried your heads in the snow.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 17 Nov. 2019.

Iraqis’ message to Iranian protestors: [ARABIC TEXT]*

The stamp reads: On this date, 26th of Aban 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam
.

* Your revolution is harder than ours, because you are banging on the head of the dragon, and we on its tail.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 20 Nov. 2019.

Hello, Mom?
Are you ok?
Mom?
Hello?
Mom???? *

The stamp reads: On this date, 29th of Aban 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

The language of the phone keyboard is Persian.

*We still have no news.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 24 Nov. 2019.

The internet is neither connected* nor disconnected**! But . . .

The stamp reads: On this date, 3rd of Azar 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

* But its being connected has not reduced the grief of ours killed.
But its being connected has not reduced high prices and poverty.
But its being connected has not reduced the heavy prison sentences for labor and environmental activists.
But its being connected has not reduced the pressures over laborers, teachers, college students, and retirees.
But Haft Tappeh Factory is still closed down . . .
** But its being disconnected has not reduced worries over news of arrests.
But its being disconnected has not reduced our hope for tomorrow.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 19 Nov. 2019.

Today.*

The stamp reads: On this date, 28th of Aban 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

*You draw today with your bullets and color it out with our blood . . .
Tomorrow belongs to us.
*Based on Amnesty International reports, at least one hundred and six people have been killed in the recent protests.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 25 Nov. 2019.

Fuel is expensive* and our blood cheap**!

The stamp reads: On this date, 4th of Azar 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

* Fuel will be expensive for the government, too! If we all use public transport, if we occupy it with large numbers of people.
** Let’s turn government actions to opportunities for ourselves! What better opportunity for walking to work and being present in the streets. Perhaps many of us will arrive at our destinations earlier if we walk! The streets belong to us . . .

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 6 Nov. 2019.

From the blood of the homeland’s Pouyas, hope has been growing . . . *

The stamp reads: On this date, 15th of Aban 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

*Pouya Bakhtiari’s mother: I was shouting out slogans when I noticed the flood of people coming down the boulevard where I was standing. They were shouting, “I’ll kill, I’ll kill, whoever killed my brother”. Pouya’s body was on their arms. Pouya’s bloody face while his body was being carried by people is the last picture I have of him. We immediately took him to Ghaem Hospital in Karaj city, but it was too late; he had lost his life the moment the bullet hit him. When the doctors pronounced him dead, I began to shout out slogans in a loud voice.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 30 Nov. 2019.

Intellectuals and artists have shut their eyes and ears; let’s make them hear our cries!!!*

The stamp reads: On this date, 1st of Azar 1397 [22 Nov., 2019], this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

The red stamp, added later to the original poster, as if updating it, reads: They heard! Date: 9th of Azar 1397 [30 Nov., 2019].

* Several days after the protests and the killings of Iranian people, there is still no sign of any reaction or response from cultural figures and artists. Their responses, in best case scenarios, have been focused on the internet blackout.
* We surely need one another more than we need the U.S. and Israel.

@honarmandaan, Twitter, 1 Dec. 2019.

Reformists! Conservatives! It’s the end of the story . . .*
The caption of the image reads: “an Iraqi protestor after a government building is occupied by protestors . . .”

The stamp reads: On this date, 10th of Azar 1397, this note was penned for historical documentation by artists from the Some Artists page, Va al-Salam.

* We are not alone, but part of a global wave. While holding on to our regional differences, we are making changes along with the people of Iraq, Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Bolivia, and others.
Our destiny is not in the hands of the monarchy or the Mujahedin or the U.S. or Russia. We’ve taken our destiny in our own fists . . .

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