Artist’s Upcoming Exhibition Depicts Persecution of Iranian Baháʼí Community
Now based in the United States, Maryam Safajoo in her paintings tells the stories of the Baháʼí community in Iran, which has endured constant persecution since the 1979 revolution in that country. Her work relates stories of oppression that include murder, arrest, detainment, and interrogation. Each painting is inspired by a real event that she has painstakingly researched.
“My paintings narrate these stories which are a result of my conversations with the people who were near these actual events,” she said. “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.”
Her work ensures these events and their impact are not lost to the world.
“My depictions are often the first time these events have taken visual form. I record the details of this history,” Safajoo said. “For example, details of the shoes, clothes, artifacts, and environments seen in my paintings are very close to those that were there in the event.”
Safajoo also has firsthand knowledge of the persecution her community suffers. She and her immediate and extended family have experienced it.
“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,” she said. “Later, my sister was denied access to university, and because of her quest to understand why, was then placed in solitary confinement.”
In her work, Safajoo said, she shows “the beautiful aspects of those who have been persecuted by highlighting their steadfastness, powerful spirit, and love for humanity.”
Safajoo notes that tens of thousands in Iran have been deprived of jobs, pensions, and educational opportunities, including systematic denial of access to higher education. Baháʼí cemeteries, and properties have been confiscated, vandalized, or destroyed, and many Bahá’ís have lost their homes and other property that have been seized or damaged.
Through her work, she said, she is “constantly reflecting on the concept of a humanity free from religious prejudice, including how we can eliminate all prejudice such as racism, sexism, nationalism, and how our prejudices can complicate or obfuscate the development of our community and prevent each other from growing.”
Safajoo studied business administration in Iran before moving to the United States, where she earned her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Massachusetts. She has exhibited her work at venues including Harvard University and the Massachusetts State House, and presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Her remarks at the AJC Boston Diplomats Seder in 2016 were adapted by the Boston Herald into an article. Her work has recently been featured by IranWire, Tavaana, PersianBMS, Radio Farda, Nashraasoo, and the BBC.
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