Voices of the Iranian women being brutally murdered by their own regime are being amplified in Jerusalem.
A 3.5-meter wide by six-meter long mural designed by Israeli artist Ana Kogan in partnership with Persian-American filmmaker Hooman Khalili, featuring the faces of four Iranian women who were killed by their own regime, is being displayed at one of the most highly congested intersections in Talpiot.
“We want the Persian people to know that we in Israel stand with them against a brutal Islamic regime that is causing most of the conflict in our region.”Fleur Hassan-Nahoum
“We want the Persian people to know that we in Israel stand with them against a brutal Islamic regime that is causing most of the conflict in our region,” says Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.
The Woman Life Freedom mural, hung on the side of the El HaLev and MyPwr Ltd. building on the corner of Poalei Tzedek and Pierre Koenig streets, is meant to be a show of solidarity with the people protesting in Iran. It is part of the Murals for Freedom project spearheaded by Khalili and Los Angeles-based artist Chloe Hakakian.
Kogan is a well-known Russian-Israeli painter who works with life-size 3D art, graffiti and body painting. Her work is considered both technically accurate and exceptionally artistic and philosophical.
Who are the women murdered by the Iranian regime?
The mural features the faces of Mahsa Amini, Sarina Esmailzadeh, Fereshteh Ahmadi and Nika Shakarami.
Amini died on September 16, 2022, at age 22 after she was detained by Iranian morality police in Tehran for not wearing her hijab properly. Witnesses claimed she was beaten while being transported to a detention center. She died in hospital under suspicious circumstances. Her death is considered the catalyst of the Iranian women’s uprising.
Ahmadi was killed by security forces in November while standing on the roof of the house she was staying at in the city of Mahabad and watching a protest. She was the mother of two.
Esmailzadeh and Shakarami were 16-year-old Iranian influencers who both suspiciously died during protests in September. Human rights groups said that Esmailzadeh took a severe beating to the head during a protest in the Alborz province. Shakarami disappeared during a protest in Tehran and turned up dead 10 days later. CNN reported that she had been detained by Iranian authorities.
The background of the Woman Life Freedom mural is gold. It contains two symbols: the lion and the sun. Dating back to 12th century Persia, the symbols are thought to have represented power and royalty. The mural depicts a woman holding a sword, riding a lion. The sun symbol used to be at the center of the Iranian flag pre-July 1980. The sword has come to represent the Iranian women-led revolution.
“The reason I chose gold for the background is that traditionally in Iranian culture, the color gold stands for power,” Khalili says. “I believe that even in death, these four women have the power to make a difference and inspire others to keep the fight for basic human rights alive in Iran.”
Khalili is a popular Persian-American actor, producer and radio personality. He is best known for the production of Olive, the first full-length feature film shot entirely with a smartphone. The film, which includes five original songs written and performed by Dolly Parton, qualified for the Academy Awards in 2012.
He also created a non-partisan election video to spur American youth to vote in the most recent presidential election that garnered 5.1 million YouTube views and ended up in the Museum of Television and Radio in New York.
Khalili went to the United States from Iran at age three. He tells the Report that his mother narrowly escaped Iran on September 25, 1978 – right before the revolution – with one suitcase, $5,000, and him.
Today, Khalili is a devout Christian. He says that hanging a mural in Jerusalem is putting it “at the spiritual center of the world.”
“There are murals in the United States, Canada and Australia, but this is the most important of them all,” he says. “That is the point of this mural – to come to the Holy Land and for the world to see the people of Israel standing with the freedom-fighting people of Iran.
“My hope and prayer are that the Western media will follow this lead. There is an army of prayer warriors praying for this one thing: that Israel and Iran become allies and neighbors, caring for one another as they did in the past.”
Khalili helped secure the wall for Hakakian’s first Mural for Freedom in San Francisco. After the project was completed, he shared an image of it on Instagram, and it went viral. The picture was seen by Israeli Jewish influencer Emily Schrader, who reached out to him about bringing the project to the Holy Land. She connected Khalili with Hassan-Nahoum, who secured the wall for the project in the heart of Talpiot, which has recently become known for its many graffitied walls.
He met Kogan through a contact in the Foreign Ministry.
“I called up Ana, and I just started talking about the project,” he recalls. “I was talking so fast for like 15 minutes, and she could not get a word in. When I finally stopped, she said, ‘I don’t think this is real. I think it is a joke.’”
Eventually he convinced the artist that he was serious and that he would pay her for her time if she would meet with him and the deputy mayor in Jerusalem to help move the project forward.
Kogan did so, and 26 days later the mural was hung in the city.
“I saw that we had to throw a log on this fire,” says Khalili. “Putting a mural in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the whole world, is a giant log on this fire… By all accounts, this is a miracle.”
Kogan recalls that she told Khalili that she was very busy, but he persisted.
“He told me, ‘I need it now,’” she tells the Report. “He said, ‘I cannot wait; and if you want to do it, then now is the time.’”
Khalili says the mural is meant to make the Israeli people proud and to show the world that Israelis are standing with the people of Iran.
Yehudit Sidikman, co-founder of El HaLev and CEO of MyPwr says, “It is at the site of this empowerment partnership that we are displaying this mural today; to reach out in solidarity to our sisters in Iran, and to awaken all humans on the planet we share to the devastating effects of violence against women.”
Khalili plans to put up another 39 murals across the country. He says he will work with 40 local artists to place similar works from the Golan to the Dead Sea.
Why 40? Because of its biblical significance, he says. In the Bible, God tells the prophet Job that Nineveh will be destroyed in 40 days; the flood in the Noah story lasts for 40 days; the Jews wandered the desert for 40 years; it took 40 days for God to give Moses the Torah – and there are many more examples.
He says he will raise the money to finance the project and consider living in Israel for a few months to watch it come to fruition.
“I am used to seeing my work on walls,” says Kogan, “but I have never had this kind of feedback – from people all over the world, including Iranians who are reaching out to thank me for my support. It is emotional and exciting.”
Khalili adds that anyone who understands the dynamics of the Middle East knows that Israel’s No. 1 enemy is Iran. Persians know that each morning, the leaders of the Islamic republic wake up and say, “Death to America, death to Israel.”
“Having Iran’s No. 1 enemy supporting its people sends a message,” Khalili says. ■