Iranian American Women Put Protests at the Center of New Work: 

“The Struggle Continues”

By Justin Ebrahemi

For many women who grew up in Iran, subservience was inculcated at an early age. “Learning was intertwined with religious indoctrination,” says Pantea Karimi, a San Jose visual artist who left Iran in early 2001 after experiencing harassment on multiple occasions from the morality police. “I was subjected to this systematic brainwashing to make me a religious female product.”

Now, Karimi draws from her experiences in post-revolutionary Iran to create work that simultaneously celebrates and protests Iranian life. One symbol reappears: the Kaaba (or “cube” in Arabic), the most sacred Islamic site.

Like Nouri, Karimi moved quickly to address the protests in her own work, which erupted while she was preparing a solo exhibition for Oakland’s Mercury 20 Gallery. “The upheaval and flashbacks took me to a very dark, emotional place,” Karimi says, and she felt compelled to reinvent her show.

Karimi began filming women who cut their hair in solidarity with the Women, Life, Freedom movement. Twenty (mostly non-Iranian) women in her Bay Area and San Diego art communities participated in the project, garnering over two million views on her Instagram account.

“Some of the women, cutting their hair, had tears in their eyes, and their hands were shaking,” Karimi recalls. “It’s a meaningful gesture, when a woman cuts her hair in solidarity.”

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