For Freedoms Keeps the Iranian Fight for Liberation in Plain Sight

The artist collective (and super PAC) reimagines television news—and billboard advertising—in Miami and New York.

“Offered Eyes” (1993) by Shirin Neshat at FDR Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island, New York. Photography by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms

On Sept. 16, Mahsa Amini was detained by the Tehran morality police, allegedly for not properly wearing her hijab. She died in police custody. Protests in her memory have gripped the country since, leading to the arrests and reported abuse, sexual and otherwise, of tens of thousands of citizens. On Thursday, Nov. 24, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Chief Volker Turk said the country is in “a full-fledged human rights crisis.” 

For Freedoms believes artists belong in public conversations about politics; as the world trains its focus on the Iranian uprising, the collective has assembled a coalition of artists to broaden perception. Recently, co-founder Eric Gottesman seized the format of television news to launch the For Freedoms News network at the Brooklyn Museum. “We’re appropriating the form and aesthetic of broadcast news,” he told the New Yorker, “as a way to build greater civic engagement through art.”

At this year’s Untitled Art fair in Miami, the network will stage an ersatz studio for interviews at the fair entrance, hold conversations with artists including Michele Pred and Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova, and send “reporters on the street” to interview artists and attendees around the city as part of the For Freedoms Special News Report: EYES ON IRAN. The collective will also fly “Eyes in the Sky” billboards above South Beach, featuring optical artwork by co-founder Hank Willis Thomas and the Iranian oil and digital painter Mahvash Mostala, on Nov. 28 and 30. 

“Mahsa” (2022) by Sheida Soleimani at FDR Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island, New York. Photography by Austin Paz, courtesy of For Freedoms

Those billboards will then travel to New York City to join Eyes on Iran, a multimedia installation For Freedoms created in collaboration with Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit devoted to increasing the number of women in leadership positions. It will activate the FDR Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island in hopes of amplifying the Women, Life, Freedom campaign to remove Iran from the UN’s Commission on the States of Women.

The activation brings large-scale artwork from Iranian artists including Aphrodite Désirée Navab, Icy and Sot, Sepideh Mehraban, Sheida Soleimani, and Shirin Neshat, who joined former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others at the opening on Monday, Nov. 28. Like all of the artwork, Neshat’s piece—a monumental close-up photograph of an eyeball wheatpasted on the park’s stairs—stares down the United Nations across the river, which is currently in the midst of its annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign. Its message is clear: the courage of Iranian women will not be kept from view. 

“When we say that we must keep our ‘Eyes on Iran,’ we mean that what’s happening deserves not only our attention but our vision,” Neshat explained in a statement. “In solidarity with the courageous Iranians who are risking their lives to express their human rights, many artists throughout the diaspora and beyond are bringing our vision to bear to ensure international audiences and institutions remain aware of what is happening in Iran, in their eyes and in their hearts, and feel moved to respond.”

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