As women’s rights protesters in Iran face violent crackdowns and internet blackouts, we share artworks by ten illustrators and graphic designers from around the world that draw attention to their cause.
Protests broke out in Iran on September 17 following the high-profile death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman who died under contested circumstances while being held in custody by the country’s “morality police” for not wearing her hijab correctly.
Over the past two weeks, people have taken to the streets in more than 50 cities across the country to demand justice for Amini and call for wider political reform, with many women risking arrest by publicly waving or burning their veils and cutting off their own hair .
As the government attempts to crack down on the protests, estimates suggest that more than 130 people have been killed and hundreds more injured, while large-scale internet shutdowns are restricting Iranians’ ability to organize and communicate with the outside world.
In the hopes of shining a spotlight on the situation in Iran while Iranians cannot necessarily do it themselves, a slew of illustrators and designers have created graphics to spread the message on social media.
“Their internet is down and they need us to be their voices,” Spanish-British illustrator Paloma O’Toole wrote on Instagram. “They are fighting for their dignity.”
Here are ten artists using their work to support the protesters in Iran:
Ahmad Rafiei Vardanjani
In a riff on the classic recruitment posters used by the US Army during the second world war, Kraków-based designer Ahmad Rafiei Vardanjani created a series of illustrations calling on viewers to stand with the women of Iran.
While some mimic propaganda art, others resemble comic book strips showing women fighting back against armed police, waving blood-splattered flags and cursing out the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei.
This image, titled Cut It Out, shows a woman about to cut herself loose from a man, who is clinging onto her hair and wearing the characteristic green uniform of Iran’s Guidance Patrol – the so-called morality police that enforces the laws requiring women to wear headscarves and loose-fitting clothing in public.
— Leni Kauffman (@lenikauffman) September 23, 2022
Let women wear what they want is the key message behind this graphic by Japanese-American illustrator Leni Kauffman.
With this phrase, the artist aims to condemn the systems that are denying women’s rights and regulating their bodies while conveying that headscarves themselves are not inherently repressive.
London-based architectural designer Tim Fu used the text-to-image generator Midjourney to envision this sculptural monument for Azadi Square, a central plaza in the Iranian capital of Tehran that was one of the key sites of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the protests following Iran’s 2009 presidential election.
Fu, who is a part of Zaha Hadid Architects’ computational design research group CODE, says the design was “inspired by femininity and bravery”, suggesting a faceless woman with her hair uncovered and blowing in the wind.
Emblazoned on top of this image of a protester waving her headscarf are the Persian words “women, life, freedom”, which has become a key slogan and rallying cry for Iranians and their allies.
“This protest is not against the hijab or Islam, but against the Iranian government’s repressive and unfair treatment of women,” illustrator Paloma O’Toole wrote in her caption.
This childlike step-by-step illustration from Paris-based Cécile Dormeau echoes the powerful photographs and videos of Iranian women cutting off their own hair as an act of public protest, which have been widely shared on social media.
Italian illustrator Francesco Bongiorni showed his support for the movement by re-sharing an artwork he originally created for a New Yorker magazine article, covering Iran’s violently suppressed pro-democracy protests of 2009.
Alongside the image, he shared the famous saying: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
— Manuela (@Manuela_Fiori) September 22, 2022
Reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter posters that demanded justice for George Floyd, this graphic by London-based Manuela Fiori shows the face of Mahsa Amini – the galvanized figure behind the protests – rendered in only two graphic colours.
This annotated illustration shows a woman wearing different headscarf styles throughout the decades, captioned with the hashtag: not to compulsory hijabs.
The graphic comes from Tehran-based artist Rahele Mahouti, who has managed to circumvent Iran’s internet blackouts to share a slew of illustrations on Instagram, which have also been turned into real-life protest placards.
In a play on the idiom of getting someone out of your hair, this artwork from Turkish cartoonist Oğuz Demir shows a woman combing through her hair to remove the small male figures that are tangled up in it like insects.
“You can’t force people into your paradise,” his caption reads.