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North Vancouver exhibition takes up the call of Women, Life, Freedom

The instalment at Cityscape Community ArtSpace features artworks by female artists, shedding light on the ongoing movement led by women in Iran

North Van Arts is presenting Women, Life, Freedom, an exhibition that celebrates the beauty and strength of Iranian women.

Curated by Saghi Ehteshamzadeh, an Iranian-born artist based in Vancouver, the exhibition features an array of artworks by female artists, celebrating the beauty and strength of Iranian women.

The title of the exhibition is a reminder of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement that began in Iran following the tragic death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested in Tehran by morality police – a dedicated unit that enforces strict dress codes for women – on Sept. 16, 2022. Approaching the anniversary of the movement, this exhibition provides a platform for the voices of Iranian women to be heard and their stories to be shared.

Ehteshamzadeh, holding a bachelor degree in Cinema Studies from Art University of Tehran and studying Arts and Entertainment Management at Capilano University, believes that what’s happening in Iran is not receiving enough exposure, especially in the Western world. For her, art has become an impactful tool to bring attention to the movement.

“Since the Woman, Life, Freedom movement started in Iran, as an Iranian woman and as an artist, I felt compelled to use my platform and my tool, which is art, to spread the word about what was going on in my country,” she said.

As the Woman, Life, Freedom movement took hold in Iran, Ehteshamzadeh began using art as a form of activism to raise awareness about the movement and the injustices women face there. During the Catalyst: Art as Activism conference at Capilano University in 2022, it was highlighted how art has played a crucial role in the ongoing female-led movement in Iran.

For the Women, Life, Freedom exhibition, Cityscape Community ArtSpace invited artists to apply through open calls, ensuring diverse perspectives.

“What I wanted to focus on was the Woman, Life, Freedom movement and the resilience and bravery of women and I wanted to address the inequality that women were facing in Iran and internationally.”

Alongside art pieces by Iranian artists, the exhibition also features works by other artists. One of the pieces is titled You Will Never Walk Alone, created by Turkish artist Ece Asitanelioğlu. Through her sculpture, she aims to “depict the struggle of women and the oppressed using the gesture of turning your head backwards while walking alone because of not feeling safe on the streets,” as mentioned in the exhibition’s brochure.

Additionally, three pieces by Canadian artist Kate Arkletian are showcased, featuring uterine sculptures that represents the power of the feminine in a variety of ways.

Ehteshamzadeh emphasizes that the inequality women face is not limited to Iran, and the exhibition aims to encourage more dialogue about this issue.

Among the artworks is a piece by Iranian artist Mina Saneei, which is a pair of glasses with cracked glass as homage to the victims of violence during the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran. These protesters, including individuals like Mohsen Kafshgar and Ghazal Ranjkesh, tragically lost their vision due to bullets fired during the demonstrations. According to a report by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, 26 individuals were identified as victims of blinding by state security forces. The CHRI has learned that the actual number of victims of blinding is higher, and many others have chosen to remain silent out of fear of state reprisals.

Ehteshamzadeh hopes viewers will engage with the artworks and take away one particular message: Hope.

“I’d like to send across the message of hope, that after all the tragedies that happened, there will be hope for a free Iran. Specifically on the North Shore, there is a big community of Iranians, and I think it’s good to stand in solidarity with Iranian people. The movement in Iran is still ongoing, and people are still risking their lives and freedom to fight this injustice, and I believe it’s very important to have such shows to spread this message.”

According to Amnesty International, since the start of the protests, 22,000 people have been arrested in Iran, and as of April 4, at least 537 people had been killed in the anti-government demonstrations, as reported by the Norway-based watchdog Iran Human Rights.

The exhibition also includes art pieces by other artists such as Audineh Asaf, Ashrafi, Elmira Sarreshtehdari, Yasaman Moussavi, Goli, Kiana Shahnia, Laleh Jahaveri, Moozhan Ahmadzadegan, Nazanin Khalili, Roselynn Sadaghiani, and Sanaz Haeri. The Cityscape Community ArtSpace exhibit welcomes visitors until Aug. 26.

Hamid Jafari is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist who writes about the Iranian community in Canada, art, culture, and social media trends. His work for the North Shore News is supported by New Canadian Media. [email protected]