Iranian Artist’s London Exhibition Responds to Oppression and Denial of Rights, with Freedom of Expression and a Call for Awareness

The works of Raoof Haghighi, who was raised in a family of 8 artists under an authoritarian regime in Shiraz, Iran, convey his belief in the importance of truth for the future of his nation, particularly the freedom of Iranian women.

“Adam and Eve”, Pencil on paper, 2022

Raoof’s mid-April London exhibition, “Painting is Like Breathing for Me” explores his poetic, no-holds-barred response to the restrictions and domination of his fellow nationals and barbaric treatment of women. After experiencing decades of being denied free-speech, his drawings respond by communicating as freely as possible, focusing on banned subjects. By expressing what those still in Iran are prevented from saying, Raoof’s works have become a beacon of the Persian tradition of poets, artists and philosophers.

“Just Take Them and Leave Me Alone”, Pencil on paper, 2022

Since the Iranian government’s September ’22 ban on Instagram, where Raoof has 235,000 followers, he doubled down: Raoof dedicated his portrait of a tattooed woman toying with her hijab at the Royal Institute of Portrait Painters to “all the brave women in Iran who are currently fighting for their freedom”, painted a portrait of actress and activist Golshifteh Farahani, hashtagged a drawing of a woman’s loose hair turning to wings with #MahsaAmini, the woman who died in suspicious circumstances after being jailed for not covering her hair and added to his “Adam & Eve” series, exposing the hypocrisy of forced veils:

The exhibition’s window piece, titled “Just Take Them and Leave Me Alone” touched on the rawest nerve at the centre of the Iranian Women’s Rights movement. It depicts a surreal image of a woman who, as her breasts and groin have been removed, is left free from the abusive constraints or demands placed on her because of the male response to those parts of her body. This drawing went viral, being shared 40k+ times on Facebook and getting 36k+ likes on Instagram. It was placed on the front cover of Reddit where it received 2.6k comments such as “This is haunting. Thinking the other night how I wanted to walk somewhere, but then changed my mind because we’ve had a lot of sexual assault in the area recently” and “Being reduced on your superficial sexual characteristics is sad, you are more than just appearance of skin, muscles and forms of your body”.

“Outcast”, Pencil on paper, 2023

Raoof’s uncompromising attention to expressing his truth and its often cathartic effect on others is a testament to what we miss when the right to speech is taken away. Through Raoof Haghighi’s dedication to confronting the constraints and hostility of present reality, he hopes awareness will spread from his paintings, and perhaps some more of us may be able to breathe.

Exhibition: “Painting is Like Breathing for Me” Artist: Raoof Haghighi Date: 7 – 16 April 2023

Gallery: A Gallery Location: 2 Motcomb St, Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 8JU Web: