Parastou Forouhar

Biography: Social & Historical Context

Parastou Forouhar is an Iranian female artist that lives and works in Germany. Her work has been exhibited around the world including Iran, Germany, Russia, Turkey, England, United States and more. She was exiled from her home country after her parents, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, were murdered. She and her brother, Arash, became politically charged when they were prevented from publicly commemorating the death of their parents. Forouhar’s art reflects her criticism of the Iranian government and often plays with the ideas of identity. The loss of her parents fuels Forouhar’s work and challenges viewers to take a stand on war crimes against innocent citizens.

Parastou Forouhar

Born in 1962 in Teheran, the capital of Iran, Parastou Forouhar grew up with politically active parents. Her father, Dariush, was the founder and leader of the Hezb-e-Mellat-e Iran (Nation of Iran Party), a pan-Iranist opposition party in Iran. He also served as the Minister of Labor in the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Mehdi Bazargan He critiqued the Islamic government and the 1979 constitution adopting Shi’a Islam as the official religion. Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar were murdered in their home in Teheran in 1998 by the Iranian Secret Service. Their murder was most likely provoked by Dariush’s criticism against the Islamic Republic and its abuse of human rights. Only recently has the government confessed to these murders, which reveal to be apart of a series of killings intended to wipe out any opposition to the Islamic Republic (Daryush).

Parvaneh & Dariush Forouhar
Source: Screenshot from youtube video.

The death of her parents motivated Forouhar to push the envelope of protest against the Iranian government. Every November, before her exile, Forouhar returned to Teheran to organize a gathering in memory of her parents. In 2009, on the 11th anniversary of the couple’s death, Iranian police shut down the gathering and detained Forouhar. The government took her passport and held her for two weeks. Forouhar was questioned and accused of insulting the Islamic republic in an interview. Once finally given back her passport, Forouhar was denied permission to return to Iran. Now Forouhar works from her studio home in Frankfut, Germany creating and producing art that provokes viewers and prods at the Iranian government.

“Being provocative is what it’s about for me. I want to be provocative to elicit a moment of refusal, resistance, to call forth a sense of rejection, a rejection of this violence that comes from deep within” – Parastou Forouhar (Art.21)

Parastou Forouhar, born in Iran, exiled from her homeland, and considered a political threat by the Iranian government is left to fight the Islamic regime from Germany. As a female artist, Forouhar admits to identifying herself as feminists in some articles, but her overarching theme is her true home in Iran. Many artists travel and move back and forth between their home and new cities to study art. Forouhar once had this luxury, but now she can never enjoy the comfort of her homeland. As long as the Islamic regime rules, Forouhar must remain displaced, disconnect from her identity. She admits to the constant struggle she faces in her work by living in Germany, because she truly identifying herself as Iranian. Forouhar studied in Germany at the art academy and moved there while her parents were sill alive, but after she was exiled, her home became ”new geography” for her to navigate. She admits, “The killing of [her] parents changed [her] life and of course [her] work as well. [Forouhar] cannot show things that [she] had done before. Something was different and [she] couldn’t go on with [her] normal life, with [her] normal work” (Parastou Forouhar).

“My efforts in perusing the case in Iran had an effect on my personal and artistic sensibility. Political correctness and democratic coexistence lost its tangible meaning in my daily life. I tried to turn my confusion into a form of creativity. ”
- Parastou Forouhar (Global Feminisms)

“The production of identity, and the repressive mechanisms by which it is reified, comprise the focus of my work. My homeland, Iran, is a constant theme in my artistic practice, but the conception is complex and continuously in flux. Beyond Iran, there is also the collective memory of Germany, where I have lived since 1991. When I arrived there, I was Parastou Forouhar, but I have since become ‘Iranian.’ Every space I inhabit is accompanied by a feeling of displacement.” – Parastou Forouhar (Fertile Crescent).

Visual Analysis Part I

Balloons: Ich ergebe mich (I surrender), site-specific work, 2006
Photoprint on foil balloons and helium, oxygen, cord
Dozens of helium filled foil balloons cover the ceiling of the I Surrender art installation. From afar, the balloons look peaceful and dream-like. The viewers are invited to pull down the balloons and take a closer look at their beautiful designs, but struck with images of violent torcher. The viewer is immediately mixed with confusion as they try to fuse the conventional joyful association made with balloons and the discomforting scenes of violence.

Balloons: Ich ergebe mich (I surrender), site-specific work
Photoprint on foil balloons and helium, oxygen, cord
2007 – Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin

Papillon (Butterfly) – series of digital drawings, wallpaper. Since 2010
The butterfly is an icon in much of Forouhar’s work. In her series of digital prints Papillon, Forouhar uses images of nude female figures that are bounded and gagged. The figures are repeated in such a design to imitate a pattern found on wallpaper. The designs are then situated in strategic ways to form the wings of butterflies. Forouhar’s mother’s first name in Farsi was Parveneh, which means butterfly (Fertile Crescent). Accordingly, the butterfly prints pay homage to her murdered mother.


Papillon Collection. digitalprints. 2010


When viewed side-by-side, I Surrender and Papillon mirror many themes. The fragility of a balloon as well as a butterfly evokes the delicate but heroic frame of a female (Fertile Crescent). The two pieces depict scenes of violence and torcher, both encapsulating the memory of Forouhar’s parent’s horrific death. By coupling these intense images with peaceful iconography of balloons and butterflies, Forouhar creates a “confrontation between beauty and violence” (Arts.21). She forces her viewers to recognize the harsh and brutal reality of so many people living in fear of the Islamic regime in Iran.

 “You’re forced to confront yourself and your own desire to avoid all of this. There is no such thing as an innocent bystander anywhere on earth” – Parastou Forouhar (Art.21). 

Visual Analysis Part II

Schilder (Signs) - series of digital drawings. 2004
Forouhar creates images resembling street traffic signs that have universally comprehensible symbols and colors that require no further explanation or text. These global signs cross any language barrier due to their simple design. Despite their uniform appearance, the signs that Forouhar produced have a very different message than the usual sign seen in traffic, airports or railway stations. The pictographs depict faceless women in long veils side by side with men. The fact that women are wearing the chador creates a direct reference to the female population in the Middle East. The veiled women are squeezed into smaller shapes and spaces of the signs compared to the ample room the male figures receive. This is Forouhar’s direct critique of the marginalization of women in the Middle East.


Signs – series of digital drawings. 2004


Women of Allah series by Shirin Neshat 1993-1997.
In Shirin Neshat’s series Women of Allah, female figures are depicted with writing on their body. More specifically in the piece Rebellious Silence, a woman is covered in a veil, holding a gun. In this example, her face is covered in writing which makes her seem as if she is wearing a niqāb, not a hijab. The niqāb is of the more extreme veils women must wear. It reflects their obedience to the male supremacy in Islamic culture. There are four aspects of this piece that evoke thought in the viewer: the veil, the script on her face, the gun that bisects her face, and her gaze directly at the viewer.

Women of Allah series

Shirin Neshat: Women of Allah series
RC print and ink
Rebellious Silence-1994
Allegiance with Wakefulness- 1994
Untitled- 1996
Guardians of Revolution- 1994

When Forouhar’s and Neshat’s art is viewed side by side, viewers are presented with insight into a very realistic part of Islamic women’s lives. Forouhar art gives commentary on stereotypes of gender roles in Islamic countries. The space the female figures are allocated is a sign of their extremely restricted lives. They literally have less space than the men restricted by red lines. The veil is one boundary, which a woman takes on as her identity, and a second boundary constructed by Islamic ideology. It is this idea that the signs are of gender difference. Neshata completes the circle with a reaction to this oppressive life. The woman in Rebellious Silence, holds a gun across her face ready to fight. She is ready to push back the “red lines” constructed by Islamic culture depicted in Forouhar’s art and vocalize her desire for gender equality.

Signs – nr.2 Forouhar
Rebellious Silence- Neshat

My view of feminism and feminist art has made some obvious changes over the past three months while in GWSS 290. My original view of feminism was the stereotypical bra burning scenes from the 1960’s in the United States. Fortunately through this class, facilitated by Professor Welland, Noralis Rodriquez and my fellow classmates, my scope of the feminism, female artists, and the world has broadened.

The Tate Modern in London, England produced a Timeline of “Art History” to provide museum goers with a visual of the different movements of art as it progressed over time. Each time period is surrounded by the names of artistes that best represent the movement. A major controversy of the Tate Timeline and a major focal point of our class is the section of “Feminist” art. The names surrounding the feminist portion of the timeline are all western female artists. Before this class, I would have accepted the names on the timeline, calorized them, and only associate these women with feminist art and feminist art only with these names. Through class readings, discussions, the conference of New Geographies of Feminist Art, and my classmates presentation on female artists, I have learned to question this widely accepted view of feminist art presented by the Tate. Feminist art cannot possibly boil down to the seven names of artists on the timeline. Feminism is a concept that resonates deep in so many artists across the globe. Many female artists associate themselves as feminist and seek equality in their own lives.

One of the most rewarding concepts learned from this class is the notion of intersectinoality. Prior to my exposure to this class, I often categorized people and images based on the widely accepted stereotypes constructed by society. This class opened my eyes to the fact that every person comes from a unique background with life experiences very different from my own. Furthermore, people that could presumably have similar backgrounds because of their race, religion, or geographical roots do not necessarily share the same identity. Today’s society so easily creates stereotypes that place individuals in groups and categories. I believe this is what the Tate museum was attempting to depict: a socially constructed image of feminist art. With the recent knowledge of intersectionality, it is unthinkable to narrow down all feminist art to these seven names. The multilayered personality of feminism takes form across the globe. I feel that this class has employed me to become an ambassador for feminism and female artists around the world.

Pieces of Parastou Forouhar’s work are currently on display at The Fertile Crescent Project at Rutgers University Institute for Women and Art. The mission of the exhibit is to highlight women artists from around the world, particularly from “the fertile crescent” region. This area refers directly to the Middle East and the part of the world where agriculture is said to have originated. The Fertile Crescent and other projects like the New Geographies of Feminist Art conference deconstruct the socially accepted view of feminist art. Furthermore, it broadens western’s catalogue of female artists beyond accepted names of Judy Chicago and Frida Kahlo. Projects like these challenge notions and ideas like the Tate Timeline and push western culture to recognize the enormous amount of female artists in the world that align themselves as feminist. Thanks to exhibits like the Fertile Crescent, artists from other countries, like Parastou Forouhar, can become know around the world and celebrated for their creative work.

Fertile Crescent Artist Page

Fertile Crescent Exhibit Video


Works Cited

Daryush/Parvaneh Forouhar Documentary. Retrieved: December 2, 2012, form

Fertile Crescent. Artists: 2012.

Global Feminisms: Parastou Forouhar: Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved: December 2, 2012,             from

Karentzos, Alexandra. Signs. Retrieved: December 9, 2012.

Parastou Forouhar interview. (2011) Retrieved: December 2, 2012, from

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