I started my life trying to make sense of a world that would allow the killing thousands of innocent people including women and children, destruction of livelihoods and property, the twisting of faith, the obsessive cruelty of the powerful, the oppression of thought and repression all opposition. These questions were part of my everyday life and as a child in the middle of these realities, I sought a way to come to terms with them.
I found some solace in the world of books. I learnt how to read and write Farsi when I was about four years old and before going to school or kindergarten, and life became so beautiful after that. I loved reading and writing more than anything in the world. I was thirsty for knowledge, and the books watered my unlimited imagination. I looked forward to going to school. Finally the day arrived, and I started studying at school at the age of seven. I loved going to school and it was an important part of my early life. It was the first time I was able to be out of the house alone in the community.
At school, every single morning, the children were made to sing lots of songs about loving Khomeini (the dictator of Iran at the time) and praising the “holy defense” (the war between Iran and Iraq). Every day we were forced to participate in prayer sessions, and the other strange things that I never liked. I could still love the study and play parts of school, but it was always a big fear that my teacher might find out that I don’t like Khomeini, or that I didn’t actually pray and that I hated the “holy” war. I grew up quick. The innocence and honesty of youth replaced by conformity with a world of lies, coercion and fear. It was the first time that I thought about finding a way to express my forbidden words and unspoken fears. It was at this time that I started to draw, paint and write poems.
In 1995 I took part in a theater play for the first time and found it an amazing world. I believe that the theater is a human making factory! Theater was the best way that I could express my opinion and my opposition to the ruling regime in a nuanced and symbolic way. The theater community exposed me to new political ideas and I started to learn about capitalism, socialism and the other political systems. I started learning about philosophy and by the age of 16 had become an existentialist. In 2001 I went to a conservatory to study Architecture. The main reason for this decision was that I would have three days off from school per week, which provided a great opportunity to have more free time to practice theater. After a while I found this field as interesting as painting and the other fields of the Art world.
In 2003 I moved to the city of Kashan to study architecture at university. Kashan is an ancient historical city of Iran with more than 400 amazing historical buildings, but the culture of this city was so conservative and people were very religious. It was like being seven years old again in a weird community that didn’t accept a woman who lived and traveled alone and doesn’t wear the veil! I was also so far away from my friends in theater and their nightly meetings and philosophical discussions.
In 2005 I got my associate degree in Architecture from Kashan University and when back to Ahwaz to find everything had changed following the presidential elections of Iran. Mahmood Ahmadinejad had won with the support (and interference) of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This new ultra-religious right-wing government had begun to target progressives throughout Iranian society. Top of their hit list were environmentalists and artists, including the theatre community. He cut funding and sought to roll back the hard-fought achievements that artists had gained during the eight years of the previous more moderate president Khatami.
This was a dark time in Iran. The government shut down many theater and art festivals and limited them to addressing only religious subject matter approved by the state. There was no place left for opposition thought in the public sphere. It was at this time that I was forced to leave the theater and focus instead on working as a photographer and video editor. I had learned all of these skills from being in the theater community. I produced some radio plays during these years when there was no opportunity to produce live theater.
In 2010 I went to Azad Shushtar University to continue studying and complete my bachelor degree in Architecture. I got a job working in an Iranian state TV station as a set designer, production assistant, video editor, photographer and camera operator until I finished my degree in 2013.
During this period in my life I felt stifled and suffocated by the Islamic regime in Iran. My beloved theatre productions were shut down and the small window that the previous government had left for open for freedom of expression was firmly shut. Working in state TV I could see for myself the control that the Islamic government exercised over the media there. Political and religious interference ordinary people’s lives was the standard of the day. Anything deemed to be un-Islamic was banned and criminalized. Censorship was the order of the day, as it still is there. Under President Ahmadinejad international sanctions against Iran steadily increased as he spouted his ignorant hate-speech and alienated the western world even more. Factories shut down as foreign companies abandoned Iran and cancelled contracts. Ordinary people’s lives began to get worse, as the cost of living rose but wages reduced and the currency fell by the day. People began to lose hope in any improvement under this regime and many professionals, artists and top students began to flee Iran and seek asylum in the Western world.
I began to be active in anti-regime movement and began to publish anti-regime news online under a synonym. I took solace in music and singing, another passion of mine. But nothing I did eased the suffocating repression of the regime and I felt that I was slowly drowning there. My family was important to me and my father was unwell so I resisted the urge to flee Iran like so many of my colleagues and friends had done. But finally in 2013 I made the decision to leave Iran and try to go to Australia. I chose the path of getting on a boat bound for Australia, but never made it, instead I became a prisoner, seeking asylum, on the tiny island of Nauru in a remote section of the Pacific Ocean. It was dark, and scary. I was stuck there, in the darkest place in the Pacific Ocean, for six years. It’s a long story, so I will attempt to summarize it for you here.
On the 19th of July 2013 the Australia Government implemented a new policy aimed at stopping the arrival of asylum seekers on Australian territory. A new military force was created, the Australian Border Force. It was tasked with one mission, to “stop the boats”. Swinging into action the ABF began to transfer intercept asylum seekers arriving by boat and transfer them to Australian run Offshore Processing Centers on the impoverished South Pacific Islands of Nauru and Manus. I was one of them.
The asylum seekers were told that they would be processed and their asylum cases assessed, before going to Australia. But six years later many are still detained there, despite being found to be refugees. The United Nation has repeatedly condemned this Australian policy and declared it to be illegal. Australia continues to ignore the UN and human rights advocates.
Instead of being processing centers, these island prisons are designed to be a place of torture, humiliation, cruelty and racism, intended to drive these innocent people (included hundreds of children & women) to either die or go back to the countries from which they came.
The architect of this policy, Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, has heartless thoughts about refugees who attempt to reach the safety of Australia by boat. He is a symbol I use in my series of paintings from the Nauru detention center. He has described refugees as illiterate, wild, dangerous persons who come as thieves to steal Australian people jobs, money, opportunities, to destroy Australian as you know it, an imminent threat to his country! This is the way that the Australian government has been judging these refugees for last six years.
If any refugee complains about this cruelty, they will face the same cold response: “Why did you come to Australia? There is no place for you in Australia, stay detained here or go back your home!”
This period of my life was filled with tragedy and loss, for me personally as well as for those detained with me. The greatest loss was when I got news from Iran that my father has passed away. It was the most difficult period of my life, words cannot do it justice.
After a while I became active in resisting our illegal detention from within the prison that was Nauru. I secretly filmed the injustice, and the poor living conditions. I made documentaries using basic cameras and equipment smuggled in by the guards in return for cigarettes. It was a basic existence, but I made it count, and in the end we won our freedom because we were able to grab the attention of the foreign media who exposed our plight.
In 2019 after six years of illegal imprisonment in Australian offshore refugee detention center, I arrived America as a refugee. Australia, keen to claim that they stopped the boats, made a deal with President Obama and sent us to the USA, who accepted us as genuine refugees and gave us our freedom. However, many refugees still remain in Nauru and the fight to free them continues.
During these dark times, my art is what kept me even. My passion for the arts was first kindled by the repression and injustice I experienced under the Iranian government, little did I know that the Australian government would pour fuel on my artistic fire. In my desperation to escape the repression of the Iranian regime, I ran straight into the hatred and injustice of the Australian government. This ironic tragedy that I lived and witnessed for so many other refugees, is the main influence on my artistic style and subject matter.
My previous studies in architecture has been my other major artistic influence. I look at art in geometric forms, with volume, colors and visual elements harmoniously combined. My inspiration comes from my favorite style Cubism and complimented by expressionism, abstract and modern art.
My art is the visual expression of the words in my poems, so my paintings are my poetry as well. I tell poems through shapes, colors and sometimes the silence of empty space.