A striking mural of a pair of hands in handcuffs with the words “Journalism Is Not A Crime” is hard to miss if you stroll through the Astoria neighborhood in Queens, New York – an area that is famed for its provocative street art.
“This particular mural has a straight message,” says Nicky Nodjoumi, an acclaimed Iranian visual artist, who painted the artwork for the #NotACrime campaign in support of free expression and journalists’ rights in Iran.
“I think it’s very important to campaign for the rights of journalists," Nodjoumi says. “In my country Iran, Egypt and other places, journalists are in danger because they frequently want to talk about the truth. But they won’t be able to do it, and they wind up in jail. So we are loosing our only independent voices in politics.”
In Iran, journalists are routinely censored, harassed, imprisoned and tortured for simply doing their job. There are at least 50 journalists in jail in Iran today.
For Nodjoumi, the mural’s message has sentimental value as he too was exiled from Iran in 1969 for creating artwork that was critical of the Shah.
“I was in trouble with the previous government and now I’m in trouble with the Islamic Republic of Iran as well, which is only because of the painting, I’m not an activist," he says.
Nodjoumi now lives in New York, and his art is exhibited at a number of big artistic venues, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum in London.
His #NotACrime mural, which is located in Queens at 11-22 Welling Court, is the largest Nodjoumi has ever painted, and it has, according to him, a much stronger impact than his smaller paintings do — a claim the residents of Astoria seem to agree with.
As one passer-by says, “Art has the ability to bring about change.”
“I don’t like to be labeled,” Nodjoumi says. “And I want to be able to express my ideas and feelings about the society I live in. I don’t like anybody to tell me what to do or not to do.”
The #NotACrime campaign is behind New York City’s most ambitious mural art project to date – all in order to prompt conversation about human rights violations in Iran. The murals were painted ahead of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly, which opened in September 2015.
“It’s a good time to talk about the issues that are important for us. This is an attempt to let the politicians know the voice of people,” Nodjoumi says.
The #NotACrime global street art campaign teamed up with curators and street artists in New York City to produce murals that raise awareness of Iran’s human rights crisis.
The Iranian government continues to violate the rights of its own citizens. The #NotACrime initiative looks at two issues in particular: the plight of Iran’s journalists, who face arbitrary arrest and intimidation, and the government’s refusal to allow the Baha’i religious minority pursue further education. Read more on notacrime.me.