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Installation view of JR's Baraye Nika Shakarami," 2022

Woman, Life, Freedom and Four Freedoms Activate Eyes on Iran

Erica Silverman

7 December 2022

On November 28, the “Eyes on Iran” art activation, powerfully facing the U.N. in New York City, was unveiled at a dynamic event at FDR Four Freedoms State Park. The lively gathering celebrated a sweeping installation, on view through January 1, 2023, which coincides with the U.N.’s initiative, “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.” Series such as “Eyes in the Sky,” billboards created by artists Hank Willis Thomas and Mahvash Mostala—which were flown on November 28 and 30 in Miami, and on December 3 in New York—are boldly focused on upholding the mission of Woman, Life, Freedom. The campaign, a collaboration between For Freedoms artist collective, and non-profit Vital Voices Global Partnership, alongside Iraninan women leaders, calls for the removal of the Islamic Republic of Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women in a historic December 14 vote. 

Installation view of Mahvash Mostala,

Installation view of Mahvash Mostala, “Woman Life Freedom, Flying Eyes,” 2022, photo by by Austin Paz, courtesy of Woman, Life, Freedom.

“The world’s eyes have been focused on the courage of Iranian citizens in their quest for freedom, in the face of increasingly grave danger,” said human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam Mackay. “The Islamic Republic has censored them and attempted to blind the world to the potential of this movement. ‘Eyes on Iran’ is our response to their call for a free Iran.”

Installation view of Shirin Neshat,

Installation view of Shirin Neshat, “Offered Eyes,” 1993, photo by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms.

Cultural leaders and cutting-edge artists alike gathered for the monumental event. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stood alongside Iranan artists such as Sheida Soleimani, Aphrodite Désirée Navab, Z, Icy and Sot, Shirin Neshat, Mahvash Mostala, Sepideh Mehraban, and Shirin Towfiq. Grammy-award winner Jon Batiste and Iranian musician Mehrnam Rastegari hosted a compelling performance for attendees. 

Zainab Salbi

Zainab Salbi; Photo by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms.

‘’We are calling on the world to take more action, starting at the United Nations. We must remove Iran from the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women. The fact that Iran is a member is a bitter irony,” remarked Clinton. “What we are seeing is a revolution led by young women who are just not willing to live with the loss of freedom being imposed upon them.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton; Photo by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms.

December 3-4 saw artist JR, alongside Hank Willis Thomas x Wide Awakes and Mostala, stage a weekend of special art activations. JR paid homage to 16-year-old activist Nika Shakarami who was killed this past September in violent protests in Iran. The work gathered over 300 volunteers to stand with Shakarami’s portrait and majestically embody her hair while walking across the lawn of FDR Four Freedoms Park. The “Eyes in the Sky” billboards, illustrating black and white larger-than-life eyes with the text “Woman, Life, Freedom,” waved through the sky over the people of New York.

Installation view of JR's Baraye Nika Shakarami,

Installation view of JR’s “Baraye Nika Shakarami,” 2022, courtesy of JR.

Installation view of Mahvash Mostala,

Installation view of Mahvash Mostala, “Woman Life Freedom, Flying Eyes,” 2022, photo by by Austin Paz, courtesy of Woman, Life, Freedom.

“When we say that we must keep our “Eyes on Iran,” we mean that what is happening deserves not only our attention but our vision” said Neshat. “In solidarity with the courageous Iranians who are risking their lives to express their human rights, many artists throughout the diaspora and beyond are bringing our vision to bear to ensure international audiences and institutions remain aware of what is happening in Iran, in their eyes and in their hearts, and feel moved to respond.”

Installation view of Sheida Soleimani's,

Installation view of Sheida Soleimani’s, “Mahsa,” 2022, photo by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms.

Installation view of Shirin Towfiq's

Installation view of Shirin Towfiq’s “Revolution,” 2022, photo by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms.

This October, Woman, Life, Freedom published a riveting two-page advertisement in The New York Times which, leading up to the vote, featured a petition spotlighting signatures by women leaders from across the globe—100,000 signatures followed. “The upcoming vote on December 14 is critical in setting the tone on what happens next because the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women is a normative body. It exercises global leadership in setting the norms on what gender equality and women’s empowerment should be,” stated Iranian-American human rights attorney and Women, Life, Freedom spokesperson, Gissou Nia. “So, it’s nothing short of outrageous to suggest that the Islamic Republic of Iran should have any part of a commission like that. They absolutely should not and we all have a responsibility to speak up and urge the Commission to do the right thing.”

Installation view of Sepideh Mehraban, Thread of Stories, 2022

Installation view of Sepideh Mehraban’s “Thread of Stories,” 2022, photo by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms.

Artist Hank Willis Thomas

Artist Hank Willis Thomas; Photo by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms.

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