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Activists Display Faces of Iranian Prisoners in Tompkins Square Park

By Danielle Tcholakian | February 20, 2014 4:20pm
 Three women pasted posters of Iranian prisoners on the pavement in Tompkins Square Park on Thursday afternoon.
Iranian Prisoners Street Art
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EAST VILLAGE — Street artists and activists pasted massive portraits of Iranian prisoners on the ground in Tompkins Square Park Thursday afternoon.

The action by Unlock Iran and the team behind The Inside Out Project is timed to coincide with the ongoing P5+1 Iranian nuclear negotiations in Vienna.

"Iranian officials have publicly claimed to be unaware of the imprisonment of some of the individuals featured in this installation," Gissou Nia, spokeswoman for Unlock Iran, said in a statement. "By showcasing their faces so prominently in the middle of the global metropolis of NYC, we are demanding that their faces be seen and their voices — for now unjustly silenced — be heard again."

 Unlock Iran put the portraits up near the United Nations on Tuesday, before the Tompkins Square Park exhibit on Thursday.
Unlock Iran put the portraits up near the United Nations on Tuesday, before the Tompkins Square Park exhibit on Thursday.
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Unlock Iran

Eleven of the 13 faces are those of journalists, pastors, bloggers, scientists, lawyers and students currently imprisoned in Iran, the group said. The remaining two photographs show prisoners who were executed last month. The group said Hashem Shabani, a poet, and Hadi Rashedi, a teacher, were tortured for months before their convictions on various charges, including "waging war against God," and sentenced to death.

Three women accompanied by a dog named Seven pasted the posters on the pavement near the entrance to the park along Seventh Street between Avenues A and B, residents said.

Zalmai Levrat, who is half-Afghan, saw the artists install the posters Thursday afternoon and asked their permission to add his own touch to the display: a face drawn in the same blood-red paint the artists used to draw slashes over the faces of the two executed prisoners.

"I said that I could do a regular face to show that it's regular people, this could affect anyone," he said.

The Inside Out Project, started by street artist JR, has done similar large-scale installations all over the world, including in the favelas of Rio and the Kibera slum in Nairobi.

Unlock Iran is launching a digital project on March 3 that will use Facebook to provide a window into what life would look like inside an Iranian prison.