Public Art Installation Opens in Solidarity With Iranian Protesters

“Eyes on Iran,” located in a public park on Roosevelt Island, faces the United Nations across the water

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Shirin Neshat's Offered Eyes Photo by Austin Paz / Courtesy of For Freedoms

A new art installation centered around the ongoing protests in Iran has opened at FDR Four Freedoms Park on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. Artists, activists and political figures spoke out about human rights abuses and women’s rights at the installation’s grand opening last week.

“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 photographer and filmmaker Shirin Neshat at the opening. The featured artists, she added, are working “in solidarity with the courageous Iranians who are risking their lives to express their human rights.”

The opening featured several big names, including a speech from Hillary Clinton and a performance from Jon Batiste.

Titled Eyes on Iran, the exhibition purposely faces the United Nations across the water. In her remarks, Clinton voiced her support for the campaign to remove Iran from the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women.

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Hillary Clinton speaks at the opening for "Eyes on Iran" on November 28, 2022. Courtesy of For Freedoms

“The fact that Iran is a member is a bitter irony,” Clinton said. “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.”

The installation includes imagery featuring eyes at large and small scales. Between a set of trees, transparent Persian carpets seem to float in the air, per News 4 New York’s Jen Maxfield. Elsewhere in the park, bricks are inscribed with the names of protesters who have been arrested or killed by the Iranian morality police since the protests began. The lyrics to “Baraye,” a song that has become the movement’s unofficial anthem, are also on display. The exhibition includes artworks by Iranian artists Sheida Soleimani, Aphrodite Deìsireìe Navab, Z, Icy and Sot, Neshat, Sepideh Mehraban and Shirin Towfiq.

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Aphrodite Désirée Navab's Uproot the Roots, Rise Up Photo by Austin Paz, Courtesy of For Freedoms

The installation is one of many efforts by artists to document, comment on and amplify the Iranian protesters’ messages; in October, the Anonymous Art Collective for Iran staged a protest at the Guggenheim in New York City. In November, activists demonstrated at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And in Iran, activists are also using art to protest their government: One of them dyed some of Tehran’s central fountains blood red earlier this fall.

The Iranian protests began with Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in the custody of Iran’s “morality police” after she was arrested for not wearing her hijab correctly. Since Amini’s death, young women have been at the forefront of a growing wave of protests. Reports and video footage have shown Iranian women and girls setting their headscarves on fire and cutting their hair in public to chants of “Woman, life, freedom.”

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A "For Freedoms" billboard flies near the Statue of Liberty in New York City Courtesy of For Freedoms

“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,” human rights activist Nazanin Afshin-Jam Mackay says in a statement. “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.”

Eyes on Iran” runs until January 1, 2023 at FDR Four Freedoms State Park in New York City.