Leaving Iran was the best decision she ever made but Nastaran Shahbazi looks back on her years growing up in Tehran with mixed emotions.
She remembers visits to her jailed father as her main childhood activity.
Then there’s the memory of his 25-year-old uncle who was executed by the regime for being “politically incorrect”.
These experiences and other life lessons shaped her adulthood and influenced her chosen craft.
Shahbazi, 34, considers herself lucky for having been able to study art in France thanks to her supportive parents.
Her love of art grew around the time she became aware of other places.
It was the result of having a stay-at-home mother who was passionate about art and a father who worked in a French company as a hydro-engineer.
When the Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1980, Shahbazi was only two years old, but in the eight years of the conflict, she developed a consciousness that made her want to leave the country.
Shahbazi remembers how portraits of dead young soldiers were put up in the streets as part of a memorial.
Today, some of those streets bear their names.
She realized she was a war victim without a choice like the others who were forced to fight in the frontlines.
The conflict and its aftermath were only the beginning of a bigger ordeal.
Shahbazi’s father, who was a communist advocate at the time, was jailed by the regime for five years.
So began a phase in Shahbazi’s life that revolved around weekly family visits to his prison cell.
Visitors needed to first enter a small cottage.
They went through a list of names on a notice board but not all would enter. Some would end up going back to the bus.
The list was marked whether the inmate was still living or dead.
Shahbazi learned to lie about her whereabouts when she visited her father on school days.
Even then, in her young mind, she kept seeing people following her.
At 24, Shahbazi left home for France.
For the first time, she felt an overriding sense of freedom. She could walk around Paris without a jihab.
Not long afterwards, she met her future husband.
The couple have been living in Hong Kong for nearly two years since her husband was sent over by his company.
Meanwhile, Shahbazi keeps herself busy in her Tsuen Wan workshop where she makes anti-war art.
The premises have been made available to her free of charge by her husband’s boss.
“I hope people will understand us and have no misconceptions about us,” she said in Iranian.
She praised her religion and the Iranian culture and said ordinary citizens are not terrorists as some people mistake them to be.
The Middle East is a complex patchwork of cultures which should be treated individually, she said.
“For instance, Iran is a relatively peaceful country compared with Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Shahbazi returns home once a year to visit her parents and younger sister.
And like most of her compatriots, she is hoping for a groundbreaking change in her country someday.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 8.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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