The #NotACrime global street art campaign teamed up with curators and street artists in New York City, as well as in Brazil, South Africa, and Australia, to produce murals highlighting the denial of higher education to Iran's Baha'i religious minority.
IranWire's new series featuring the artists and their murals will continue over the coming months as the #NotACrime project spreads to more cities around the world.
The New York Amsterdam News – headquartered in Harlem, at the corner of Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 126th Street – is one of the oldest and most famous African-American newspapers in the United States. The paper was established in 1909 and for more than a century has played a key role in voicing African-American aspirations and advancing the cause of civil rights.
And so, when the #NotACrime movement won permission to paint murals outside the newspaper’s Harlem offices, highlighting Iran’s long record of denying its Baha’i minority access to higher education, it was more than just a coup — it was the beginning of a new human rights partnership.
Alexandre Keto, a Brazilian street artist whose work often reflects on the experiences of marginalized Brazilians of African descent, was therefore an appropriate choice for the first three-storey-high piece. Keto – who was selected by the #NotACrime campaign’s curators, Street Art Anarchy, chose to paint a family of two women and a child under the traditional baobab tree of knowledge.
“I wanted to show that, around that tree, many people could speak and exchange information,” Keto said.
The tree itself takes on anthropomorphic dimensions with a human face, and also includes a small carving of the famous gate of Tehran University – a clear link to the Iran aspect of the campaign and the denial of education to Iranian Baha’is.
“Everybody should be able to go to school, to learn, to understand” Keto said. “Education is the base if you want to keep developing the world.”
Keto added that he believed street art had a unique ability to not only convey a message but to reach more people than other cultural forms.
“I’m still making graffiti because I believe that the art is a perfect tool to connect with communities,” he said.
Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News, said that participating in the #NotACrime campaign was a first for the newspaper.
“We’ve been in this building for about 70 years,” she said. “But I think this is the first time we’ve had murals on it – and this is such a beautiful addition to our newspaper and our newspaper’s history.”
Tatum added that the campaign’s mission was also a motivation for donating a wall of the Amsterdam News building to Keto’s work.
“Without freedom of expression freedom of the press, freedom to be able to learn, to go to school, we will not be able to get further in this world and in this society,” she said. “I’m just excited that this is here and I’m trying to figure out how to let more people know – I’m looking forward to more people being able to enjoy it.”