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Artworks convey personal stories of persecution


Source: Baha'i World News Service (BWNS)

SYDNEY, Australia - Works of art by a group of Australian-Iranians are highlighting the issue of religious persecution in Iran. A new exhibition here includes works by artists all of whom have family or friends who have faced oppression and imprisonment by the Iranian regime, in particular for their membership of the Baha'i Faith.

Artist Mehrzad Mumtahan is the nephew of one of seven former Baha'i leaders in Iran who are each currently serving a 20-year prison sentence. Mr. Mumtahan's ceramic sculpture, titled "Turquoise Feet," pictured, conveys the cruelty of a commonly-used punishment in which the soles of a prisoner's feet are beaten.

The artists are painter and digital artist Shadi Eshragi, writer Maryam Master, photographer Leila Barbaro, and ceramic and multi-media artist Mehrzad Mumtahan. They are hoping the exhibition - staged in the "At the Vanishing Point-Contemporary Art Inc." gallery in Newtown - will contribute to calls for the just treatment of all Iranian citizens.

Shadi Eshragi, pictured with one of her artworks titled "Eternal Garden." The piece was inspired by a telephone call she received, telling her that the Baha'i cemetery in Shiraz where her grandmother is buried had been desecrated. The work, said Ms. Eshragi, "essentially asks the question, 'What peace is left for the living when their dead cannot rest in peace?'"

Real-life stories reflected in the artworks include the case of a bright and popular girl who was shamed in front of her classmates and then expelled from school; the abduction and incarceration of a quiet and unassuming family man; the imprisonment of a pregnant woman who subsequently gave birth while behind bars; and the dismissal from his post of a respected university professor because of his beliefs.

Zhila, an Australian-Iranian Baha'i, pictured in front of the artwork "Cell Block 8" which tells her story. The work, by photographer Leila Barbaro and writer Maryam Master, recounts how Zhila gave birth to her son while incarcerated for her beliefs in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

The show's opening on Saturday 15 December was attended by some 70 guests including Catherine Cusack, member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, representing the state premier Barry O'Farrell; the deputy mayor of Marrickville, Councilor Emanuel Tsardoulias; and Philip Ruddock M.P.

Pictured at the exhibition's opening on 15 December are: (from left to right): writer Maryam Master; painter and digital artist Shadi Eshragi; Brendan Penzer, managing director of "At the Vanishing Point-Contemporary Art Inc."; Monir Rowshan, exhibition co-curator; and artist Mehrzad Mumtahan.

Describing the exhibition as "incredibly important," Ms. Cusack said it "speaks the truth about injustice and oppression and it is moving in its authenticity. Although the exhibition exposes a terrifying oppression on the other side of the planet, it is, I think, very Australian - the way in which the artists have banded together, shared, drawn upon their creativity and skill using their art to speak...directly to our emotions."

The gallery's managing director Brendan Penzer, expressed his pleasure at being able to display the works, saying his organization had a proud history of staging "exhibitions that encourage us all to engage in dialogue and discourse around important contemporary cultural, political, social and ecological issues."

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