Can art help fuel a revolution? From Picasso to Delacroix, artists throughout history have, in times of great turmoil, used their talents to inspire or document political change and terrible injustice. Living once again as we do in a period of global conflict, I wanted to highlight a work that has quickly become synonymous with the struggle of Iranian women and their allies against a brutally repressive regime. Nonetheless, the image itself didn’t originate from the current protests. Photographer Newsha Tavakolian created it as part of her ‘Listen’ series back in 2011, a project highlighting the struggle of female Iranian singers looking to be able to sing solo, an opportunity denied them by the country’s authoritarian system.
The artist herself reshared the image on her social media after the senseless death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman that perished in police custody after being picked up for violating the country’s strict Islamic dress code. The tragedy of the image is how, eleven years on, it so easily can be re-used to capture the battle for female independence within Iranian society.
The photograph shows a young woman covered from head to toe in black, not a single inch of skin showing besides her defiant face, a striking gaze that no regime can censor. In sharp contrast to the tint of this repressive uniform are the bright red boxing gloves she’s wearing. Standing, ready to fight, in the middle of a deserted street in Teheran, she shows how powerful even a solitary act of protest can be when justified. Tavakolian, a celebrated photojournalist and documentary photographer, was able in this one image to encapsulate Iranian women’s ongoing struggle for equality. As the regime cuts off internet connections and social media access, it’s left to us, the rest of world, to not let their fight be in vain and to be their voice when they are silenced. So please share this and other artworks depicting their revolution, help them realise that they, while facing great odds, are finally being heard.