In London’s mecca for street art, a Polish artist campaigns to free the young Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani, who is serving almost 13 years in jail in Iran for drawing a cartoon.
“I really relate to Atena,” says Sławek Czajkowski, also known as Zbiok, an acclaimed Polish street artist. “And I decided to join Journalism Is Not A Crime because it’s hard to imagine that, for things we take for granted, she is in jail.”
Zbiok’s latest mural – which appeared on a huge wall in Shoreditch in East London, one of the world’s leading neighborhoods for street art – is the first artwork commissioned by Journalism Is Not A Crime. The Village Underground gave permission for the mural to be displayed on its prominent Holywell Lane wall.
His piece joins the worldwide #Draw4Atena campaign with possibly the largest artwork created in the campaign to date.
The 29-year-old Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani was arrested in Iran in August 2014 for drawing a satirical cartoon depicting members of the Iranian parliament as beasts. She was released on bail after a short period in detention, but rearrested on January 10, 2015. The legislature was at that time considering several laws designed to erode women’s rights – in a country where the government already limits many freedoms for women.
Farghadani’s trial came in May 2015 and saw a series of abuses – lack of access to lawyers, solitary confinement, courtroom beatings in front of her family, and other horrors – before she was sentenced to 12 years and 9 months in prison.
The Shoreditch mural is designed to explore the clash between political repression and the irrepressible search for truth. The work is directed by Cedar Lewisohn, an international street art curator.
“Zbiok’s piece is influenced equally by references to socialist realism and a modernist form of abstract representation. He shows that a work of art can be authentic while advocating a human rights message,” Lewisohn says, adding that the image “represents artistic freedom [against] the abuse of political power and … torture.”
“I hope that my piece will help us empathize with Atena and support her cause,” Zbiok says, reflecting on the power of art to inspire action.
And dozens of passers-by have the same view. “To be imprisoned for publishing ideas is monstrous,” says one, and another adds that drawing attention to Farghadani through art is “definitely a stronger message than just pure information. It makes people think.”