The Point Behind the Pictures

What did 29-year-old Atena Farghadani do when she learned of her near-13 year prison sentence? At first she couldn’t accept it, and then she settled in. Prison would be home. And she would create.

Farghadani did not live in prison though, not for too long. She was released after 18 months. But good lord! 18 months in prison is still a tack on of mental weight. She endured passed the dingy, inhumane conditions. ¬†For some of her imprisonment she stayed at the notorious Gharchak prison. Deadly criminals shared cells with those charged of political crimes. Sanitation was not an issue, because there is no sanitation in this prison. Four showers and 189 inmates to a chamber. Farghadani told the Washington Post, “I consider Gharchak prison as a graveyard of time . . . where time dies. I sometimes see those inmates in my nightmares.”

What crime did she commit to earn such punishment? It had to have caused terrible consequences to result in threats of a 12 year nine month sentence. Or not. She published a cartoon poking fun at the government. This might seem odd to an American who has seen droves of memes and satirical bobble-head-like representations of any US citizen crazy enough to get into politics. Half way around the globe though, mocking the government, pointing out their wrongs, and making them look bad is still illegal. So Farghadani sat in prison, making art on paper cups, until even those were taken from her.

At length, Farghadani went free. And she still creates art with political and social themes.

“You, of course, have become an inspiration to so many around the world, Atena — a beacon of creative and political resistance.” Such is the praise afforded Farghadani by Michael Cavna, one of the numerous reporters to cover this story. Why wouldn’t people flock to the front page to present such a heart-warming and blood-chilling tale? Some gave a call to action, trying to persuade people to sign petitions while the cartoonist remained in prison. What now does her story inspire, now that she is out from behind bars . . . ?

Well, I could feel wimpy about my efforts in the arts, and writing, or I can open my eyes and realize that Farghadani did not aim for prison. Her point was to pursue a passion to be heard. Sometimes the limelight focuses so much on the cost that people don’t see the starting point. The beginning of this story is a stubborn female Iranian artist who draws cartoons. I want to see her art, and hear her voice.

Atena Farghadani holding one of her recent cartoons