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Women, Art, Freedom: Women Artists & Street Politics in Iran

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Following the tragic murder of Mahsa Amini, Iranian women took to the streets in large numbers to protest. Their bodies were the focus of these demonstrations, with women dancing and spinning their headscarves or anonymous activists installing protest banners or using sanitary pads to cover surveillance cameras in order to prevent state authorities from imposing conservative dress codes on women. The courageous presence of women in public spaces has been a crucial aspect of this revolution, with many instances of women's political activism on the streets taking on characteristics of art production. By entering the realm of visuality and sense-experience, traditionally assigned to art and aesthetics, activism has taken on performative dimensions. However, the "Woman, Life, Freedom" uprising is not the only manifestation of such involvement. For over three decades, Iranian women artists (and, by extension, activists as artists) have engaged in public art activism, creating moments of rupture in everyday life without necessarily declaring an overt political stance. These artists have used guerilla-style tactics such as painting graffiti, playful drifting, and occupying empty urban spaces to assert their right to the city and challenge strict urban regulations. Such innovative practices in busy urban areas are more challenging for women artists than their male counterparts. This presentation highlights the work of several prominent contemporary women artists who have questioned the limitations of public life for women, demanded freedom of expression, and reclaimed the streets through their creative and courageous interventions.

Pamela Karimi  
Pamela Karimi received her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009 and is currently a professor at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Karimi is the author of Domesticity and Consumer Culture in Iran (Routledge, 2013) and Alternative Iran: Contemporary Art & Critical Spatial Practice (Stanford, 2022). She is the co-editor of The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in the Middle East: From Napoleon to ISIS, a collection of important essays published at the height of ISIS attacks on cultural heritage. Karimi has held fellowships from many organizations, including the College Art Association, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and Iran Heritage Foundation at SOAS. More recently Karimi was the co-recipient of a major grant from the Connecting Art Histories Initiative at the Getty Foundation. Co-founder of Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, Karimi currently serves on the boards of Thresholds Journal (MIT Press) and the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey.

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