By Robb Corker
“Pack your bags with the stuff you need and your favorite things,” a father told his fourth-grade daughter. The girl was a seasoned traveler, so she knew what to pack. When her father returned a few minutes later to realize the bag was filled with stuffed animals, he told her to unpack half to make room for clothes. Their hurried escape in 1979 to flee Iran’s Islamic Revolution would leave behind far more than the treasured stuffed animals of a young Laleh Mehran.
It was years later that Mehran realized all that she had left behind that day. Not just a car and furnished home, but a short lifetime’s worth of friends, family, and cultural identity.
A few short months after the revolution, the Iran hostage crisis created a negative awareness of Iranians for many Americans. In such a hostile social climate, Laleh saw no need to disabuse people of the assumption she was Latino as she came of age in Miami, Florida.
After initially studying pre-med at the University of Florida, Laleh changed majors to instead pursue Creative Photography. She found work as a fashion photographer before realizing her artistic predisposition to thinking about pieces serially meant she should be working in a medium that embraces the use of time: digital art.
The young photographer began attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh where she would secure a Master’s degree in Electronic Time-Based Media and meet the mentors who would influence not only her artwork, but her paradigm of mentorship. Where some pull up the ladder, Laleh reaches down to pull up the next generation.
“I was quite fortunate that I had some really amazing mentors like Faith Wilding and Susanne Slavick…powerful people who had my interests at heart,” Mehran recounts. “If we don’t have that kind of network where we’re helping eachother, it’s not really beneficial.”
Mehran’s philosophy on mentorship and commitment to the public good have coalesced, providing an opportunity to reach back through time and serve the home she was forced to flee over four decades ago.
Mehran stands next to DU student Gabi Ocasek’s digital artwork depicting Iranian women cutting their hair and burning their hijab. (Source: Robb Corker)
The ripples of the revolution that caused Mehran’s diaspora have become waves of protests crashing against the Iranian regime after the Sept. 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by state “morality police”.
After Amini was brutally beaten by police and later died after three days in a coma, protests erupted across the country calling for equal rights for women. The protests were met with brutality as almost 20,000 people have been jailed and more than 500 have been killed.
Despite massive popular support, the government is still brutally cracking down on protestors. (Source: Robb Corker via Canva)
Mehran’s Designing Social Good class took on the task of raising awareness for the Iranian protests and for the protestors were jailed and killed.
Originally created as a student exhibition to reflect upon and raise awareness for Iranian women and protestors, #WomanLifeFreedom has evolved into an audiovisual multimedia experience that includes digital art and posters from artists inside Iran, reporting from Al Jazeera, and an expansion of the original student artwork all set to the music of the revolution.
This flier lists event dates for the WomanLifeFreedom exhibition happening on DU’s campus. (Source: Laleh Mehran)
New details of events happening in Iran since the opening of the exhibition make shining a spotlight on Iran to raise awareness even more crucial.
Though exact details are hard to ascertain because Iran has jailed at least 62 journalists and at least killed five, reports have surfaced of a string of poisonings targeting girls’ schools in 21 of Iran’s 30 provinces. More than 50 schools have been targeted and as many as 800 people, mostly schoolgirls, have been poisoned since the chemical attacks began on Nov. 30, 2022.
The WomanLifeFreedom exhibition takes on more meaning as the patriarchal oppression has metastasized from this generation to reach the next.
“I want people to take away [from the exhibition] awareness, solidarity, understanding of the Middle East and the complexities that overlap with policies and how they impact women’s rights–even here–such as the fall of Roe v. Wade,” Mehran said.
Mehran hopes the exhibition will impact the contributors and collaborators as much as those who attend.
“For my…class, it’s been an amazing professional opportunity with hands-on experience at the two venues that have displayed WomanLifeFreedom (at Redline Contemporary Art Center and on DU’s campus at the Gallery Lounge in Community Commons),” she said. “Having administrators see our students taking what they’re learning in these holistic ways and applying it to so many ways of doing public good is important as the students go on to lead lives with purpose.”
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