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In early December, over 300 volunteers crowded onto the lawn of New York’s Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park, designed by Louis Kahn. The crowd gathered to form a waving embodiment of the free-flowing hair of Nika Shahkarami, a 16-year-old girl found dead after joining a protest in Tehran in September over the death, in police custody, of Mahsa Amini. As part of the ongoing Eyes on Iran demonstrations, French street artist JR invited the volunteers to move their arms behind his large-scale portrait of Nika, installed near a version of Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s Offered Eyes, whose penetrating gaze animated the park’s steps across the East River from the United Nations headquarters.

Neshat’s piece sits alongside works by artists including Sheida Soleimani, Aphrodite Désirée Navab, Shirin Towfiq, Sepideh Mehraban, Mahvash Mostala, and Hank Willis Thomas. The constellation of public work by these artists and activists called attention to the UN vote on December 14 to exclude the Islamic Republic of Iran from its Commission on the Status of Women.

Baraye Nika Shakarami, aerial.

Sheida Soleimani's Mahsa (2022) is part of the artist's “Levers of Power” series, which has documented tensions in and between Iran and the U.S. through the body language and gesture since the Trump administration’s March 2020 assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. Photo by Austin Paz, courtesy For Freedoms.

“It was a huge triumph for activists and human rights workers in Iran,” says Iranian American artist, activist, and professor Sheida Soleimani, whose parents are political refugees from Iran. Her evocative photo collage Mahsa greeted visitors at the park’s entrance. The Providence, Rhode Island-based artist's layered surface incorporates pink and gray images of Amini’s brain scans, which were leaked to negate the government's claim of death by natural causes. In the foreground, Amini’s hand grasps a white hijab set ablaze. “I feel it's an artist's responsibility to tackle the issues of our time,” says Soleimani, “not just to make pretty things.”

Eyes on Iran ran until January 1, 2023 at FDR Four Freedoms State Park.

Baraye Nika Shakarami, aerial.


Baraye Nika Shakarami, close up.


JR's large-scale, cotton canvas portriat Baraye Nika Shakarami on December 4, 2022 during an interactive installation with over 300 participants at FDRour Freedoms Park. Photos courtesy JR/For Freedoms