The streets of Harlem are getting prettier and more political this summer. How? Creative protests.
Look around and you’ll notice new, bright, colorful murals. These murals come with a message of equality. The new artwork brightening Harlem is an idea spawned from Not A Crime and curated by Street Art Anarchy.
Not A Crime is a campaign that advocates for the rights of Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority, particularly in the fight to legally learn.
That’s right, learning – a privilege while expensive in the U.S., is legal for all citizens, but is a right inaccessible to Iranian Baha’is. For Baha’is in Iran, higher education is illegal and punishable. The Islamic state shames the Baha’is for their progressive beliefs, and preventing a right to education is one of the ways the Iranian government attempts to stop the faith from flourishing.
Baha’is follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah, who founded the religion in 1863. This faith practices tenants of non-violence, equality of men and women, and universal compulsory education.
The unfortunate catch for Iranian Baha'is is that the three tenants mentioned above undermine the power structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran and thus see Baha’is as a threat to the patriarchal system.
Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist, created a documentary that outlines the injustices the Baha’is face, called “To a Light Candle”. The documentary shows the resilience of Baha’is, who continue to practice their beliefs despite kidnapping, arrests, hundreds of murders, and all around oppression, inflicted on them by Islamic extremists.
The Baha’is, who place a large value on education, created their own underground university, The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, whose graduates have gone on to some of the top universities all over the world. Nonetheless, there is still work to do in the fight for justice for Baha’is and for all marginalized Iranians.
Not A Crime was originally used as a means to spread awareness about the documentary, but after its success, the campaign decided to use street art as a way to fight the injustices in Iran, and especially focus on the right to education.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Campaign Coordinator for Not A Crime, describes Harlem as an ideal place to fight injustices in Iran. First, Vaillancourt, believes Harlem is a perfect place to creatively combat injustice because of its rich history in the arts and social justice.
Eras of Harlem’s past, like the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance, which brought a new vitality to the area, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, of which Harlemites were active participants, made this New York City neighborhood an, “inspiring place to do a civil rights campaign,” said Vaillancourt.
Also, he believes Harlem is an important place to bring art and creativity, and allows for its residents to become active participants in the public arts spectacle.
Not A Crime has a mission. By September, when the 71st UN General Assembly convenes, 15 murals associated with the campaign will cover Harlem, as a call to world leaders, to bring civil rights to the Baha’is, and all Iranians. Not A Crime especially wants to get the attention of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who permits the persecution of the Baha’is.
Street Art Anarchy has chosen artists from all over the world to make Not A Crime's vision a reality. So where in Harlem can you find some of this street art and join the conversation?
The first piece of this year’s campaign comes from South African artist Ricky Lee Gordon who painted a 55ft mural at the Faison Firehouse Theatre. The theatre is owned by the legendary, George Faison, the first African-American to win a Tony Award in 1975. You might also like to check out the mural painted by Australian artist Rone at Storefront Academy.
Other schools, also feature the murals focusing on education, such as P.S. 154. There, street artist Erik Burke, has a bright floral mural, captioned, “The greatest education is shield and trophy.” While you’re there, check out street artist, Elle, and she finishes up a piece this week.
Not A Crime and Street Art Anarchy invite everyone to check out the creative campaign and use modern networking tools to help people around the world join the pretty protest.
Maziar, the mastermind behind Not A Crime, was quoted by Street Art Anarchy saying, "This campaign marries old and new forms of communication – street art and modern social media activism. It will spark an important conversation."