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Harlem Murals Send Human Rights Message to Iran

By Valeria Ricciulli | April 25, 2016 7:04pm
 South African artist Ricky Lee Gordon painting his mural, which will be unveiled Monday for the Not A Crime campaign.
South African artist Ricky Lee Gordon painting his mural, which will be unveiled Monday for the Not A Crime campaign.
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Valeria Ricciulli

HARLEM — The streets of Harlem are sending out a human rights message to Iran.

Artists from around the world are daubing murals onto 15 walls in the neighborhood, bringing attention to the plight of Iran's Baha'i religious group, which has been persecuted since the Iranian revolution in 1979, according to organizers.

The “Not A Crime” campaign is the brainchild of Maziar Bahari, a former journalist from Iran whose imprisonment there inspired the 2014 movie "Rosewater," which was directed by Jon Stewart.

The first two murals will be unveiled this week — one on the side of Faison Firehouse Theater on Hancock Place that will be painted by South African artist Ricky Lee Gordon, and the other one at 2288 Frederick Douglass Blvd. that will be painted by Harlem-based Franco “The Great.” 

The rest of the project will be completed before New York hosts the United Nations' General Assembly in September, organizers said.

“We have a shared history of oppression, that’s why we are identifying with each other,” said Tony award-winner George Faison, who founded Faison Firehouse Theater.

Aside from the neighborhoods’ artistic scene, Bahari was attracted to Harlem because of its connection to the Iranian revolution, he said.

“When the revolution started in Iran, Iranians started talking about oppressed people around the world. They started showing films about oppressed African-Americans," he said.

"But at the same time, they were imposing their own discriminatory policies on different groups within Iran — like women and other minorities like the Baha’is.

“[We are] highlighting this hypocrisy of the Iranian government."

The new murals will focus on the right to education in honor the Baha’is struggle for equality in Iran. Bahari said they are denied the right to teach or study in their home country. Baha'i, a monotheistic religion, was founded in the 1860s by Baha'u'llah, who taught that all religions represent stages in the revelation of God's will, leading to the unity of all people and faiths. 

“This whole campaign is about agency, about giving people the ability to express themselves and to learn from each other’s experiences,” Bahari said.