Expatriate Artist from Iran Solidarizes with Iranian Women Struggle 

Soroush Sanaeinezhad, Iranian artist and expatriate living in Prague for the past three years, speaks out on the recent murder of Mahsa Amini. Sanaeinezhad’s reaction is similar to many Iranians and people around the world after hearing about the tragic and unjust murder of Amini. 

News Interview

By Thesar Abazi / Matthew Staff || Edited by Ilenia Reale

“After the death of Mahsa Amini, I was deeply affected by her innocence and how arbitrary her death was,” said Sanaeinezhad. “She could have been any of the girls that I knew in Iran.”  

On Sept. 16, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, passed away after facing a beating from Iran’s morality police (known as Guidance Patrols), which has been enforced in the country to maintain morality laws, such as the mandatory hijab law enforced since the establishment of the Islamic Clergy on April of 1983. This death and torture under the hands of police struck a chord in the hearts of all Iranians, causing a strong reaction in protest alongside the international community. 

Having lived under Iran’s Islamic Republic from 1996 to 2019, Sanaeinezhad was privy to the suffering of women under the Iranian Islamic regime, and the latest news from Iran is only a testament to what he has been seeing and hearing for so long, he said. 

“As an Iranian, a Middle Eastern, a human, and a feminist, I have always had deep compassion for the women’s situation in Iran,” said Sanaeinezhad. 

Sanaeinezhad said he witnessed women treated cruelly and violently at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police. “I would hear terrifying stories of aggression from my sister, my mother, and my friends done by an organization that is not only above the law but is the law itself.” 

In 1979, the Islamic clergy under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei, overthrew the Shah’s government claiming the need to restore Islamic heritage and discontinue Western hegemony. 

Read more on the Iranian Revolution [1978 – 1979]: Middle East Institute / Brittanica

With the establishment of the Islamic Republic came new laws, one of which has been a point of contention, enforcing Iranian women to cover their hair with the hijab. Not doing so results in punishments like being lashed 74 times and/or being heavily fined. This law was not well accepted by the people of Iran.  

As an expat, the anger bubbled up in Sanaeinezhad as the years went by, while the immoral acts of injustice continued.  

“This made me angry, sad, but most of all motivated to utilize whatever I have as an artist to bring attention to these inhumane crimes against women, which usually seem to be brushed off in Western media and politics,” said Sanaeinezhad. 

Demonstrating his solidarity with the Iranian people, Sanaeinezhad attempts to provide a sense of support whilst simultaneously spreading awareness through his art and performances, attempting to upkeep the voices of the silenced Iranian women.  

Read more on the Iranian Revolution [1978 – 1979]: Middle East Institute / Brittanica

On Oct. 1, Sanaeinezhad curated a performance called, “Women, Life, Freedom” that took place in the center of Prague, Wenceslas Square. The performance consisted of gathering women among students, supporters and friends of Sanaeinezhad. The plan was for one of these women to rip off a piece of fabric from their clothing and to cut a lock of her hair “in mourning of our sisters in Iran,” said Sanaeinezhad. But the more that people joined, the more solidarity was shown and other women who participated in the performance also chose to cut a lock of their hair. Other women spoke about the events surrounding the death of Mahsa Amini; there was also a re-enactment of violence between women and police. 

Soroush Sanaeinezhad standing in a performance in Prague, Wenceslas Square, holding his painting that represents the struggle of women in Iran. Photo by Trey Alioto / @myotispraetego 

Sanaeinezhad said he meant to show how the Islamic Republic has been “futile in their efforts to oppress women’s right to their bodies and censor them by bringing down the hammer of oppression and nailing more cover on them every time they yearn for their freedom to silence their expression.” 

The name of this performance comes from the Kurdish slogan, Jin, Jiyan, Azadî (Women, Life, Freedom). As the Kurds struggle for their independence, they try to emphasize the importance of women in the struggle. This slogan has been translated into Persian, Zan, Zendegi, Azadi, as it is being used by activists within Iran and outside.  

As nationwide protests continue, we witness the strong reaction from the Iranian youth, seeing men and women risk their lives just by showing solidarity with their fellow Iranian sisters who have been prosecuted by the government for so long. We see women take off their hijabs and cut off their hair as a way to show solidarity with Mahsa Amini and other women who have been victims of the Islamic regime for so long.  

Like many migrants, leaving their country for another in the hopes of a better future and opportunity is the dream. However, this also comes with the realization that all the people left behind could not afford such privileges. Sanaeinezhad acknowledges this by saying that after leaving Iran he has been “privileged enough to have the freedom of expression.” He found meaning in his art and decided to focus it on women in Iran, and women in general. The more news would break out, the more Sanaeinezhad said he felt inclined to react through art.  

We at JCU live in a university with a diverse group of students coming from around 74 different countries, all moving here for a better education, a better life and a better future. But we also realize that we must leave behind our family, friends, and loved ones in a country we had to steer away from. Whilst enjoying the comforts of good living, good education and a possible prosperous future, we sometimes also have to deal with the guilt of seeing our homeland fall apart. As expatriates, it becomes our duty and responsibility to share such privileges and not be frugal; this can be achieved through art, performance, sports or even writing.  

Read More 

Iran pledges ‘decisive action’ as Mahsa Amini protests continue, Al Jazeera  

Why Iranian women are burning their hijabs after the death of Mahsa Amini, NPR 

Here’s What Has Happened in Iran Since the Death of Mahsa Amini, TIME 

US hits Iran with more sanctions over Mahsa Amini death, AP