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Society & Culture

#NotACrime Street Art Provokes Debate in NYC

October 5, 2015
Sanne Wass
8 min read
#NotACrime Street Art Provokes Debate in NYC

Across the City of New York, internationally renowned artists are fighting for better human rights in Iran. Through a street art campaign, awareness and support for the cause is being raised, whilst also provoking debate, and even anger, among certain people.


Through work with Street Art Anarchy, the #NotACrime campaign is behind the capital city’s most ambitious mural art project to date– all in order to prompt conversation about human rights violations in Iran.

Many of the art pieces promote freedom of expression and of the press by making a stand against the vast number of journalists, bloggers, editors, artists and photographers in Iran that are systematically subjected to intimidation, arrests, imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Iranian government.


The murals, which are hard to miss, have succeeded in sparking considerable attention and debate around the city, although not always in a desirable way. In Brooklyn, Faith47 painted jailed Iranian artist Atena Farghadani, but neighborhood vandals were quick to deface the artwork with red paint.

For an overview of the #journalismisnotacrime artists and murals, including the Atena image, read more below.



Italian artist Jacopo Ceccarelli, known as "2501", began doing graffiti at the age of 14 before going to the South American school of street art in Brazil where he developed his artistic style – depicting nature through the abstract. His works have been exhibited all over the world, including at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome. In support of #NotACrime and greater artistic and journalistic freedoms in Iran, 2501 painted a public mural on the corner of 24th Street and Lexington Avenue of birds breaking free from a cage.



Ron English

American artist Ron English is known as ‘The Godfather of Street Art.’ He coined the term ‘Popaganda’ to describe his work that opposes corporate-run societies and that aims to uncover the truth behind consumer advertising. English has produced artwork for several famous musicians and written a total of seven books. Some of his most influential work includes the infamous ‘Abraham Obama’ painting in the run-up to the 2008 presidential elections. For #NotACrime, English has painted his own version of the “three wise monkeys” with the message ‘see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.’ See the artwork at 819 Broadway and Ellery Street in Brooklyn.



Nicky Nodjoumi

Iranian-American artist Nicky Nodjoumi was exiled from Iran in 1979 for artwork that was critical of the Shah. He now lives in New York and his art is exhibited at a number of big artistic venues, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum in London. His #NotACrime piece is located in Long Island City at 11-22 Welling Court and is of a pair of hands in handcuffs with the words “Journalism Is Not A Crime” emblazoned across the work.




Faith47 is a South African street artist whose career spans more than 15 years and that explores global political issues through her art. Her work has been at exhibitions all over the world. For #NotACrime, Faith47 painted a mural of Atena Farghadani, an Iranian artist and political activist that was sentenced to almost 13 years in prison in Iran for drawing a politicized cartoon.

The mural, which is located on Colombia and Woodhull Streets in Brooklyn, shows Farghadani in a headscarf without a mouth. The artwork has since become the focus of a divisive debate in the neighborhood in which some people view the image as an anti-American message that is disrespectful to the victims of 9/11. In protest, the image has been splattered with red and white paint on three occasions.



”We’re speaking of issues of freedom of speech, or censorship, within Iran,” the artist wrote on her Facebook page. “But in fact what the mural highlighted was those same issues and latent racism affect individuals in a small community of New York.”


Icy and Sot

Icy and Sot, sibling duo, are originally from Tabriz, Iran. They are famous in the Iranian urban art culture for their artistic accomplishments. They now live and work in Brooklyn, NY and continue to dismantle pre-conceived notions of Iranian tradition through their stencil street art. Their work encompasses themes of human rights, justice, social and political causes. For #NotACrime, the artists have used their signature black and white stencils to depict imprisoned Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani, to show their support for freedom of journalists in Iran. Visit the mural at 819 Broadway and Ellery St in Brooklyn.


Marina Zumi

Argentinian artist Marina Zumi now lives in Brazil where she is one of the most prominent female street artists. She came to street art from a background in fashion design, which influences her colourful, unique style. Zumi has painted a wall on Frederick Douglass Blvd, depicting a gazelle whose eyes have been censored by a red line. The words "No Truth No Light" stand in striking white underneath an image of the gates of Tehran University. This work is painted in support of the freedom of education for the Baha’is in Iran. See her mural at the AMSTERDAM NEWS BUILDING ON THE CORNER OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS BLVD AND 126TH STREET.



Alexandre Keto

For Brazilian artist Alexandre Keto, the marginalised Brazilians of African descent, are a key part of his art. He has always wanted to transform the lives of under-represented people and to try to create a community through his art. Alexandre has painted a wall on Frederick Douglass Blvd, depicting two women and a child under a baobab tree that symbolises knowledge and wisdom. The tree has the image of the Tehran University gates carved into its trunk resembling the barring of education for Bahai’s in Iran. The artwork is also to be found at the Amsterdam News Building.



Jason Woodside

Jason Woodside is an American artist and native to New York City. He attended the School of Visual Arts and has collaborated with Adidas, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Obey Clothing amongst others. His piece is painted on Frederick Douglass Blvd with his signature colours that mark his work. His piece is in support of access to education for Baha’is in Iran.  Take a look for yourself at the Amsterdam News Building.



American artist David Torres also known as “Rabi,” is part of an art duo called “Cyrcle”. His artwork focuses on life and the human condition. His piece for #NotACrime is of a ruler broken in half with the words “Made In Iran,” to depict a shattered education system. His piece is in the Nelson Mandela memorial garden and is in support of access to education for Baha’is in Iran.  Wander down to 126th street in the Nelson Mandela Memorial Garden to have a look for yourself.




American artist Jennifer Caviola, also known as "Cake" is from New York. She is a fine artist who loves to work in public places to show her solidarity with women in the form of portraiture. Her work has featured in The Huffington Post and Vogue, amongst others. Cake’s piece for #NotACrime can be seen in Jersey City at 612 Communipaw. For this piece she has painted imprisoned Mahvash Sabet, an Iranian poetess and teacher. She paints to show her support for the freedom of education for Baha’is in Iran.



Related articles:

#NotACrime Launches Street Art Campaign in NYC to Expose Human Rights Abuses in Iran


For further information, visit Journalism is Not a Crime, a comprehensive database of jailed journalists in Iran.

Please contact [email protected] with comments, updates or further information about cases.



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