SOURCE: Not A Crime

Not A Crime

April 26, 2016 09:47 ET

Not A Crime Kicks Off Expansion of NYC-Based Street Art Campaign to Raise Awareness of Human Rights Abuses in Iran

Local and Global Street Artists Create Wall Murals in Harlem to Provoke Conversation about Education Discrimination Before the 2016 United Nations General Assembly

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - Apr 26, 2016) - Not A Crime, a campaign to raise awareness of human rights abuses in Iran, today commenced the expansion of its New York City-based street art project launched in September 2015. This year's effort will focus on walls in Harlem, with a series of 15 murals by local and global street artists designed to provoke conversation about human rights violations -- particularly education discrimination -- leading up to the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September when Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, will be in town.

The first murals were started in Harlem this week by street artists Ricky Lee Gordon (South Africa) and Franco "The Great" (Harlem) on walls located at 6 Hancock Place and 2288 Frederick Douglass Blvd at 123rd Street, respectively. The campaign will continue through the spring and summer with additional works by renowned artists to be announced.

Maziar Bahari, a former Newsweek journalist who was jailed in Iran and became the subject of Jon Stewart's film "Rosewater," founded Not A Crime to expose Iran's human rights violations and put pressure on the government to enact change. Now in its second year, the campaign shines light on the treatment of Iran's largest religious minority, the Baha'is, who are being persecuted because of their faith. In addition to being harassed and jailed on false charges, they're denied access to the right of higher education.

"It's critical to understand that the condition of the Baha'is is a barometer of the Iranian government's treatment of all its people," said Bahari, who is not a Baha'i. "In 2016, some may say we're dealing with a more rational Iranian government because it agreed to work with other nations on the implementation of the Nuclear Deal. People can't say Iran is changing when there is still systemic discrimination against the Bahai's."

Bahari partnered with Street Art Anarchy, a New York-based firm that works with internationally renowned street artists for contemporary art projects, who will curate the campaign's murals for the next phase in Harlem.

"We chose Harlem because it is the most famous place in America for many people in Iran," said Bahari. "Since the Iranian Revolution, the government has been using the treatment of African Americans in the United States to deflect attention from its own human rights violations against the Bahai's. When we first came to Harlem in 2015, people were surprised to learn about the Iranian government's use of their community and legacy to fuel their propaganda machine, and they immediately embraced our campaign. Through street art, we are answering the suppression of creativity with the expression of creativity."

Harlem has a rich history in the arts dating back to the Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the graffiti movement of the 1970s. In preparation for the next phase of the Not A Crime campaign, Street Art Anarchy co-founder Andrew Laubie spoke with artists involved with the 1970s graffiti movement to further delve into Harlem's deep connection with street art.

"We painted four murals in Harlem for the 2015 Not A Crime project, and the community embraced our campaign more than any other neighborhood," said Laubie. "They appreciated the concept of creating beautiful works of art to address discrimination. Street art takes back the messaging of a public space that is often consumed with commerce, and drives social conversation."

The Not A Crime campaign is the most ambitious mural art project ever brought to New York City, with the 2015 effort covering four of the five boroughs and New Jersey. Currently, Not A Crime's murals span locations across the globe, including a recent campaign in Atlanta and Nashville and grassroots efforts in dozens of cities, such as Dallas.

"Education Is Not A Crime"
The Baha'is, Iran's largest religious minority, are frequently jailed on false charges and denied access to higher education. There are 74 Baha'is currently imprisoned and more than 200 were executed in the early 1980s after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Thousands of Baha'is are currently studying through an underground education system known as the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). Not A Crime is working to stop the human rights abuse of young people barred from studying because of their beliefs and is encouraging universities worldwide to admit Iranian Baha'i students.

The education campaign started in 2015 with an Education Is Not A Crime Day (the last Friday of February 2015) and screenings of a film Bahari made called "To Light a Candle" -- and now it has grown into a movement. Mark Ruffalo of "The Avengers," Rainn Wilson of "The Office," Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and rights activist, and Shirin Ebadi, also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, have spoken against the persecution of the Baha'is. Nearly 100 universities -- including Stanford and Yale -- currently accept the BIHE certificate.

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