The global Not A Crime campaign returns to London this week for its 41st mural to raise awareness of the Iranian government's refusal to allow the Baha’is in Iran access to higher education. The latest mural also comes in advance of a new film, Changing the World, One Wall at a Time, showcasing two years of street art and community outreach as part of the Not A Crime campaign.
Greek muralist Argiris Ser is the latest artist to join Not A Crime. His work, inspired by pop surrealism and comic art, will be featured at the famed Village Underground music venue wall on Holywell Lane in Shoreditch.
Ser’s street art career began in 1993 and he has since painted murals across Greece, elsewhere in western Europe, and in Cyprus. The new mural in London will feature a portal into a parallel universe where fantastical creatures are concerned with the universal value of education.
The Not A Crime campaign is the world’s largest street art for human rights project – with 40 murals going up around the world. Works have been produced and have appeared in London, with three on the same Village Underground wall, Nashville, Atlanta, Cape Town, Sao Paulo, New Delhi and Sydney. Twenty-six of these murals were painted in New York alone between 2015 and 2016 – with 19 concentrated in Harlem.
“I can relate to this situation in Iran,” Ser told IranWire. “We had a similar one in the past, in Greece,” he added, referring to the “hidden schools” that some historians say existed in Greece during the time of the Ottoman Empire’s education, which taught Greek language and Christianity. “It’s really tragic that we still have [persecution] – it’s unbelievable what’s happening in Iran. It’s really important to evolve, as humanity, and it’s tragic to still continue speak about religious issues and tolerance in this time of humanity.”
Ser’s work is set in an alternative universe – a “mostly happy universe,” he says – to offer the public a different way of seeing the world.
“I created this universe to give to people a different perspective and something unique,” Ser explains. “This is education [through] art. It’s really important for street art, even if it’s not political, it’s art on the street for everyone to see.”
The mural will also feature a school – evoking the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) in Iran. The Baha’i community established BIHE in 1987 as a peaceful response to the government’s denial of their right to higher education. Thousands of students attend BIHE classes in the homes of other Baha’is and via the internet. Many have since pursued postgraduate work at some of the world’s leading universities.
Maziar Bahari, founding editor of IranWire and a former Newsweek journalist who was jailed in Iran in 2009 and became the subject of Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater, started Not A Crime in 2014. His film To Light a Candle exposes Iran’s human rights violations and aims to put pressure on the Iranian government.
The campaign now uses street art, social media and community outreach to shine a light on the treatment of Iran’s largest religious minority, the Baha’is, who are persecuted because of their faith. In addition to being harassed and jailed on false charges, they are denied access to the right of higher education. Tens of thousands of Baha’is are barred from teaching and studying at university.
“It’s critical to understand the condition of the Baha’is is a barometer of the Iranian government’s treatment of all its people,” said Bahari, who is not a Baha’i. “In 2017, some may say we’re dealing with a more rational Iranian government because it agreed to work with other nations on the implementation of the Nuclear Deal. People can’t say Iran is changing when there is still systemic discrimination against the Bahai’s.”
Changing the World, One Wall at a Time will be screened this spring around the world and will showcase the artists and activists behind the Not A Crime project. Global media impressions for the project surpassed 100,000,000 people in 2016 with more than a dozen media stories and over 40,000 social media followers.
There are about 70 Baha’is currently imprisoned and more than 200 were executed in the early 1980s after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Actors Mark Ruffalo of The Avengers and Rainn Wilson of The Office, as well as Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and rights activist, and Shirin Ebadi, also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, have spoken out against the persecution of the Baha'is.