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Remembering Atefeh 2011


A ceremony of remembrance for Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, (b. 1988 – d. 15th August 2004) who was executed, aged sixteen, for ‘crimes against chastity,’ in Neka, Mazandaran, in Northern Iran on August 15th 2004.

The ceremony was held at ‘Neda’s Tree,’ in Hyde Park, Monday 15th August 2011.

The Context
The purpose of the ceremony was to remember Atefeh and also to set her life and the events leading to her execution in the wider social context in which many girls and young women in Iran have been, and still are, imprisoned and executed for, ‘crimes against chastity,’ or ‘zena.’ It is a colossal human rights abuse which falls below the radar of most human rights activism. These girls do not set out to be political activists, they are not heroes of the revolution, nor are they saints or martyrs. They are ordinary, anonymous girls and women from villages, small towns and big cities alike, whose behaviour and whose very existence is criminalised.

Nasrine Satoudeh, a human rights lawyer currently serving an eleven-year prison sentence in Iran makes the following observation on Atefeh’s case and the countless others like hers:

The courts somehow deal much more rigorously with the women than with the men. The weakest point in our downfall is that this is happening right in front of our eyes but, sadly, we pretend that we just don’t see it.

Atefeh’s Pot
The pot was first built and bisque fired in 2010. It was handbuilt, (using the coil method), and the inside painted yellow. The external painting of lilies and roses, iconic flowers associated with love and innocence, are entwined with wild flowers, suggesting both the neglect she suffered but also her rebellious spirit. The plan was to break the pot as part of a ceremony, add the images of Atefeh, and reconstruct it, with the yellow inside setting off the darker images providing a warm, candle-like glow.

The Ceremony
The ceremony took place in Hyde Park seven years after the sixteen-year old Atefeh was hanged. Eighteen people, mostly Iranians living in London, gathered under a tree, at sunset, opposite the Iranian Embassy, which is visible though the leaves in one of the photographs. Candles were lit, to flute accompaniment, and, after readings in English and Farsi, a minute’s silence was held which was broken with the smashing of the Atefeh’s pot. A rug caught the scattering shards and the ceremony closed with more music. The rug was rolled up and the pieces conveyed to the studio for reconstruction. The images of Atefeh were fired into the glazed interior and the shards pieced together, leaving some gaps in the reconstruction, so that the internal imagery and colour would be visible.

The breaking and mending of the pot is a metaphor for the shattering of the lives and the process of survival of ‘piecing myself back together.’ It is also a material equivalent of ‘breaking the silence,’ about rape and sexual violence.

Thanks are due to:
Joseph Bates – Flute
Pegah Tabaei – Reading Farsi
Iman Nabavi – Translation
Niloufar Farrokh, Kamran Hashemi and Mana Mostatabi – advice and support
The many who attended the ceremony and helped in other ways but cannot be named: Thank you!

View other projects:

Molly's Odyssey 2013
An Extraordinary Turn of Events 2012
Remembering Atefeh 2011
This Twittering World 2011
How to Eat a Pomegranate 2009

Shattered 2007

Collection of Princesses 2006
Dinner with Svetlana 2005/6



Remembering Atefeh