Tehran’s Fountains Turn Blood Red in Anonymous Protest Art
Iranians are using art to challenge the government’s “morality police” and violent crackdowns following the death of Mahsa Amini
Last week, an anonymous artist dyed the water in Tehran fountains bright red. The blood-like pools were part of the growing protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the country’s “morality police,” who detained her for a dress code violation.
The Twitter account 1500tasvir, which has been reporting on Iran’s deadly crackdowns on the demonstrations, shared images of Tehran fountains spewing red water last week. The account called the protest art by a Persian name that translates to “Tehran sinking in blood,” according to the Washington Post’s Kelsey Ables.
The fountains were located in prominent locations around downtown Tehran: Daneshjoo Park, Fatemi Square and Honarmandan Park. They have since been drained, per Voice of America, citing the BBC’s Persian service.
Other protests have used similar imagery in the past. In the 1980s, a tiered fountain at the Behesth-e Zahra cemetery spewed red water in honor of those who lost their lives during the Iran-Iraq War, and it came to be known as the “Pond of Blood.” In 2020, animal rights activists deployed the same tactic in London’s Trafalgar Square to protest factory farming.
These protests are particularly bold in Iran, where the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance heavily censors the arts. But attempts to stifle creative expression have not stopped artists from creating provocative work, according to Pamela Karimi, author of Alternative Iran: Contemporary Art and Critical Spatial Practice.
“Unfortunately, in the past 40 years, [Iran’s progressive movement hasn’t] been able to create political groups that can stand up to the government,” Karimi tells the Washington Post. “Because of that, art has become a tool in the hands of the people to communicate their unhappiness with the system.”
Throughout the protests led by young women in the wake of Amini’s death, Iranians have used art in many ways to call for justice. About a week ago, two anonymous women hung red nooses from the branches of trees in Daneshjoo Park, according to 1500tasvir’s Instagram page. Artist Meysam Azarzad has turned to social media to showcase his red and black protest posters, two of which honor Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmailzadeh, 16-year-old girls who were allegedly killed by Iranian authorities.
According to the nonprofit Iran Human Rights, authorities have killed more than 200 protesters in Iran since Amini’s death in September. The actual number is difficult to know because the state has severely restricted access to the internet and cellular service.
Installations such as the dyed pools and red nooses are grounded in a history of subversive artwork in Iran, Karimi writes in an essay for Hyperallergic.
“What we see today is a continuation of what surfaced after a near decade of relative flexibility under President Hassan Rouhani,” she writes. “The brave language of art today, which goes as far as challenging the supreme leader himself, will undoubtedly set a new tone for Iranian art in the months and years to come.”