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This post is featured in the following collections:

Our Story Is One: The Persecution of Baha’is in Iran

in Explore > Themes

June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.

The Art of Maryam Safajoo

March 16, 2024, in Images > Visual Arts, by

Maryam Safajoo has a priceless mission: to use her visual art skills to depict the recollections of those who suffered persecution in Iran because they are Baha’is. In other words, she paints memories. She listens to those affected and she pays close attention to the details shared in order to bring remembrances to vivid life in the form of a painting.

I was deeply touched when I heard Maryam speak about her art at an event at the Scottsdale Baha’i Centre in Arizona. Afterwards, she kindly agreed to share with Baha’i Blog about her work and about an upcoming publication titled Our Story Is One, which is part of the Baha’i International Community’s awareness campaign in honour of the 40th anniversary of the execution of ten Baha’i women in Shiraz. Before we get to Maryam’s words, here is a small sampling of her work:

Can you please tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Maryam Safajoo. I’m a Tufts University alumni. I’m a Persian-American painter based in the United States and I graduated with an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston in 2016. 

Can you please tell us about your artwork and how you go about creating it?

Naysan (L) and Maryam (R)

My paintings narrate the stories of the contemporary situation of the systematically persecuted Iranian Baha’i community – Iran’s largest religious minority – after the 1979 Iranian revolution. 

I experienced this oppression myself in Iran. I remember the day in the early morning when government security forces burst into my home, ransacked it and took my father to prison; my younger sister was crying on her way to school. Later my sister was denied access to university and because of her quest to understand why, was placed in solitary confinement. Of course this is just one story among countless of what Baha’is have suffered.  

My paintings narrate these stories which are a result of my conversations and interviews with the people who were near or in these actual events. Many of the incidents I depict only exist in the memory of those who experienced them and have no pictorial existence. In many cases if visual records did exist, they have been confiscated by the Iranian authorities in raids of homes. My depictions are often the first time these events have taken visual form. I record the details of this history. For example, the shoes, clothes, artifacts, and environments seen in my paintings are very close to those that were there in the event. 

Why is your art important to you personally, and what inspires you?

Many of my paintings depict the stories of the persecution of my immediate and extended family, the stories that I grew up with in my childhood. As a child I often accompanied my family to visit the homes of the Baha’is in Iran who had lost members of their family due to this persecution. My mother herself was in prison when she was 19 for about 2 years and nearly all her friends she was imprisoned with were executed for being Baha’i (Mona Mahmoudnejad, Moghimi-Abyanehi, etc). We would often visit the families of her cellmates and I would hear first-hand the stories of these brave individuals from their closest relatives. While growing up my home was filled with the various stories of the persecution of the Baha’is around Iran and they were woven into the fabric of my everyday life. These experiences in my formative years had a very influential effect on me.  

What do you hope to achieve by creating this work and how do you hope viewers of your art are affected?

Throughout my work, I am constantly reflecting on the concept of a humanity free from prejudice; that is, how we can eliminate our prejudices against any people on the basis of colour, nationality, gender or identity, economic or educational status etc? As we know, these prejudices can complicate the development of our community and prevent us from growing together, from building a better world. My greatest hope is that by creating these paintings I bring awareness to a wider audience about the persecution of this community that is a result of religious prejudice.  

Can you tell us a little about your book Our Story Is One?

This book is the result of four years of effort. It contains within it 30 visual depictions of various examples of the hardships that Baha’is have had to endure over the last several decades. Each painting in the book is accompanied by a story which narrates the visual depiction. My paintings are a result of consultation with individuals about their experience. I consulted with them about many things throughout the work of creating a painting, the layout of a room, the colour of clothing, the expression on people’s faces, and what artifacts were in the environment, for example.  

This book is a very important contribution to history, as many of these depictions have never before taken visual form, they had only existed in the memory of those who experienced them. They may have been written down and captured that way, but depicting something visually requires focus on many details that often are not included in a written text. Colours, patterns, shapes, layouts, floor plans, the position of the limbs of the body etc… These are details that are often not included in a written memory, but they become essential to a painting. Visual art is a different way of interrogating reality.  

The book itself is premium grade and has museum quality matte colour prints of the paintings. It is hardcover and is 12” x 12” (30 x 30 cm) so it is large enough to really get a good view of the paintings. Each story accompanying the paintings is provided in both English and Farsi, so it is bilingual. In total it is 136 pages long. 

Where can people order your book and find out more about your artwork?

The book is available for pre-order from the Baha’i Publishing Trust of Australia. If you’re interested in learning more about my artistic practice you are welcome to visit either my website or my Instagram page.

Thank you, Maryam, for taking the time to share this with us!

Posted by

Naysan Naraqi

Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.
Naysan Naraqi

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