As protests sweep the nation, find out how these women artists are using their artistic practice as a way to fight for freedom.

Written by
Hanna Wentz
Newsha Tavakolian, Listen Series, 2011. Courtesy of Magnum Photos
As protests sweep the nation, find out how these women artists are using their artistic practice as a way to fight for freedom.

Iranian art has often been associated with visual poetry, richly intelligent and yet deeply mysterious and subtle in its emotional expression. But these 4 Iranian artists, like many other contemporary women artists from Iran, are using art to convey powerful messages about the many socio-cultural injustices they face as Iranian women- and the shared experience of pain, oppression, and disconnectedness that these women artists are fighting hard to expose to the world. These women are not only giving a voice to the voiceless, but are boldly campaigning for the respect and inclusion of Iranian art in the global art scene.

Since the end of  the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iranian contemporary artists have been harnessing the power of art to break conventions, challenge stereotypes, and critically examine the rules and traditions that have defined their lives and their society as a whole. These four women are boldly standing up against the oppressive, silencing forces that continue to plague Iranian women and are sharing their pain and their stories with the world, exposing the ongoing social injustices they face.

Newsha Tavakolian

Newsha Tavakolian (b.1981, Tehran, Iran) is a self-taught photographer who began working professionally with the Iranian press at age 16. Her photojournalism career in Iran continued, bringing her to several women’s and reformist dailies, all of which have since been banned. At 21 she began to work internationally covering wars, natural disasters and helped her develop as both an artist and a social documentarian.

𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘄𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲 • How she uses breathtaking photography to give a voice to the voiceless- Iranian women silenced by the oppressive, and now violent culture they are forced to endure living in Iran. 

For her acclaimed series Listen, Newsha photographed six female professional singers in Iran, who were stripped of their rights to sing or perform their music following the Iranian revolution of 1979. Clearly and evocatively capturing this injustice, she created mock CD covers and filmed videos of the performers performing heartfelt ballads, only to remove the vocal tracks and leave the women voiceless- a vivid message about her subjects, and of women in Iran being stripped of their freedoms.

Newsha Tavakolian, Listen Series, 2011.

Arghavan Khosravi

Arghavan Khosravi (b. 1984, Shahr-e Kord, Iran) is a mixed media artist who earned her MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design after completing the studio art program at Brandeis University. Khosravi previously earned a BFA in Graphic Design from Tehran Azad University and an MFA in Illustration from the University of Tehran. 

𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘄𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲 • How she stitches together traditional Persian scenes and imagery and Surrealist iconography into harrowing and powerful figurative paintings. Exploring themes of gender, censorship and cultural instability through symbolism and the use of vibrant colors and threading, she “untangles he complex relationship between authoritarianism, prejudice, and restrictions for women across cultural milieu.”

Arghavan Khosravi, The Castle, acrylic on canvas, wood panels, elastic cord.

Parastou Forouhar

Parastou Forouhar (b. 1962, Tehran, Iran) is a multidisciplinary Iranian artist known for her deeply emotional photography, drawings and intricate installations that often consist of repetitive texts, forms, and signs, through which she finds catharsis- her life’s work, perhaps, is to heal the pain of having lost her parents to political assasination in 1998. Forouhar aims to create these evocative spaces where she can express her feelings on the injustices of her Iranian culture, and reflect on the agony of her painful experiences at the hand of it. Her work, she has said, is about the “simultaneity of beauty and harm.”

𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘄𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲 • How she uses her art to shine a light on issues and as a method of personal expression and healing. Her vivid imagery draws us into her world and into her pain, allowing us to have a shared experience of the ongoing social injustice felt by Iranian women throughout the world.

Parastou Forouhar, The Grass is Green, the Sky is Blue and She is Black, 2018 (photo series).

Avish Khebrehzadeh

(b. 1969) is a multidisciplinary artist whose drawings, paintings and animations detail her experience as an immigrant through elaborate and mysterious imagery. Claiming, “mystery is good…I don’t want things definable,” she leaves her works deliberately open-ended, evoking the feelings of unfamiliarity, dislocation, and unease that moving from place to place around the world, always outside of her native Iran, stirs up within her. Rendered delicately and with a calligraphic line, the animals and human figures that populate her compositions appear isolated from each other and their surroundings. They are often engaged in inexplicable actions—tickling each other, turning cartwheels across a stage, sitting slumped in a chair—that appear both poignant and absurd.

𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘄𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲 • How her multifaceted identity is reflected in her dreamlike scenes that blend elements of traditional Iranian art with contemporary cultural references


Stay up to date with the artists by following them on instagram.

Newsha Tavakolian @newshatavakolian

Arghavan Khosravi @arghavan_khosravi

Parastou Forouhar @parastou_forouhar

Avish Khebrehzadeh @avish.k.z.studio


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