There are cultural and social contexts where freedom of artistic expression is under constant danger of being demolished. These cultural spaces have always been a stage for inspiring urban artwork. In a society overwhelmed with internal conflict, an artist with the pseudonym Black Hand has emerged with the intention to fight for peaceful existence and creative freedom. Also known as Iran’s Banksy, the artist engages in a discussion with his society, and addresses some of the most pressing issues in Iran
If street art defines itself through resisting the dominant or suppressive aspects of its surroundings, how does this battle look like in a society where some of the basic human rights are not respected? The Tehran artist has tried to oppose some of the dominant discourses of the Iranian society through the only power a street artist has – subversive artwork. There have been many reactions, not even to mention the ones within the digital world, to the Black hand’s street artwork depicting a woman in a football jersey of the Iranian team holding up, instead of a trophy, a bottle of dishwashing liquid. In the month of July, during the World Cup, this was a powerful message concerning the issue of forbidding women to enter football stadiums. The work was painted over not long after it was created. Some said it was done by Black Hand himself, emphasizing the importance of gender issues in Iran… Another already famous work continues emanating the message of the importance of human rights, depicting the painting of a symbol of gay rights. To paraphrase the words of Black Hand, art is the way to search for peace.
During April 2014, Black Hand was under the spotlight of international art community with the exhibition he had held in an old house in central Tehran. Although the property was under the protection of Historical Preservation Society, due to its unique architecture, it was decided by the authorities that it was too small, and the decision was made to tear it down. The exhibition represented an urban intervention of visual nature, as well as sound and smell. There aren’t many words to describe the cultural importance of the artist’s expression, but every room seemed to unravel another level of inspiring aesthetics of social commentary. For example, a room containing three leopard statues, without skin, painted in the colors of the Iranian flag, and a laptop computer displaying videos of the killing of leopards, conveys the factuality of Iranian society which approves of the killing of endangered animals for the use of skin… In another room, an even more powerful sentiment can be experienced – the walls covered with children’s drawings and the space filled with children’s tunes; in the middle – a headphone is hanging from the ceiling and if you put it to your ear, you could hear a man panting as if he was being sexually gratified. Another powerful presentation referring to an issue of child molestation.
Black Hand once said that he had asked himself how could one create if one had to act in a political atmosphere of a society such as Iranian. The answer was quite simple – stencils made it possible for the artist to produce his art in a very short period of time. The power of handmade tools for artwork creation is very important for an artist who wishes to conceal his identity. In present day political events, while diplomats and representatives of major powers discuss the conflicts in Iran, Black Hand continues to send messages of peace with street art, conveying straightforward symbols and saying Enough fighting, continue with diplomacy. Although socially conscious street artists struggle with artistic expression in all societies, the battle for freedom has a different tone in societies where artists are systematically oppressed. In this kind of situation, emerging street artist represents an important and meaningful inspiration for generations opposing the ongoing conflict in their community.
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