Iranian art is in a tight spot these days. The old adage says that the pen is mightier than the sword, and Tehran certainly seems to be aware of that: the latest victim of Iran’s brutal censorship campaign, an Arab-Iranian poet from Ahwaz, Hashem Shabaani, was recently hanged for “spreading corruption on earth.”
Veteran journalist Robert Fisk devoted a column on The Independent to the poet’s hanging, saying everything about Shabaani “cries out in shame against his executioners,” including his devotion to his father, a disabled veteran wounded in the Iran-Iraq War. The poet should have been “feted in his native Iran,” not killed, Fisk asserted.
Outside of Iran, meanwhile, Iranian artists are receiving the recognition they deserve – but for what, exactly?
One case in point is Iranian artist Amir Pourmand, an ISNA photojournalist who placed third in this year’s World Press Photo competition. Pourmand’s submission, titled “Moments Before the Hanging,” shows a young man just before his execution, Iran’s PressTV noted with some pride – as evidenced by the headline, “…Pourmand shines at World Press Photo 2013.”
Pourmand’s photo, which was selected from among nearly 100,000 entries, showed convict Ali Reza Mahifa – a “stabbing culprit,” according to PressTV – laying his head on the executioner’s shoulder just before the noose is put round his neck.
Putting aside the fact that Iranian media would report this so nonchalantly, and not without a note of pride, we question the judges’ decision to casually award third place (and thereby international recognition) to such a photograph without commenting on its horrific contents – or on the regime that has perpetuated such punishments even under its new “moderate” president.