“This piece is for the women in Iran who risk their lives every day” – Pari Eskandari
This month marks the one year anniversary of Jina Mahsa Amini’s death, which sparked a revolutionary movement in Iran. The world watched in awe as brave Iranians were taking on the streets daily to protest the government’s repressive laws towards women. In response, people were killed, imprisoned and executed. According to Iran Human Rights, there has been a 76% increase, amounting to 174 more individuals, in the number of executions in 2023 compared to the corresponding period in 2022, totaling at least 307 executions.
To honor this somber anniversary, German-Iranian artist Pari Eskandari is unveiling her latest composition in collaboration with the False Idols label, founded by Tricky of Massive Attack. Titled “Chador,” the song delves into the poignant struggles faced by women in Iran and delves into Pari’s own complex relationship with her homeland. It beautifully encompasses her Persian musical roots, resulting in a distinct and compelling auditory experience. The release is accompanied by a poignant music video portraying a female initiation ritual. Pari explains that this visual representation aims to elevate women from the commonplace to the extraordinary, symbolised through dance.
KALTBLUT: You’ve shared the project just a little over a year after Jina Mahsa Amini was killed by the morality police in Tehran. How are you feeling now the song and video have been released?
Pari: Liberated. It was a challenging year. Emotionally, it took a toll on me. I couldn’t cope and wasn’t a fan of the saying “Women, Life, Freedom” – it doesn’t resonate with my idea of freedom, especially after 40 years without it.
I wasn’t keen on delving into these political discussions and owning up to having a problem with it. I had more than just a problem with it. That’s why I found it hard to express myself.
In January or February, it reached an intolerable point. The winter exacerbated the challenge of processing everything and being in the moment. We shot the video in February and March at Monopol in Berlin. It was a profoundly emotional experience. Those two days of shooting were particularly intense.
KALTBLUT: You’ve created an incredibly powerful video. Do you see yourself as a musician or an activist and what kind of direction do you want to go into after this project?
Pari: I’ve never really written love songs before. I’m in the process of finalising my album, collaborating with the Münchner Kammerspiele, where I’ve produced an intermedia performance called “animapsyche”. The entire album is about the psyche, delving into various mental states.
This single, “Chador”, wasn’t part of the album. I created it separately last year, apart from everything else. Since I’ve been focusing on the psyche throughout the making of my album, I think I was able to approach this piece, “Chador”, on a much more emotional level than a political one. I don’t see myself as an activist or a musician or anything like that. I see myself as an artist with a strong sense of justice.
I see myself as an artist with a strong sense of justice.
KALTBLUT: When were you first confronted with your strong sense of justice?
Pari: It began the first time I was in Iran. The last time I was in Iran, 13 years ago, I shaved my head, went out without a headscarf, and got caught. The sense of justice began very early, but for me, it’s coupled with tremendous rebellion. I don’t just have a sense of justice where I write things down or think about them; I have to express them. As a child, when I was angry, I somehow burned down a huge wooden playhouse in the garden. In Iran, I went to the bathroom, shaved my hair, and told my uncle to give me a shirt. I will not bow down and walk around in this damn headscarf in the heat.
The Morality Police patrol the streets, checking if women are following the dress code.
Note: Women in Iran are obligated to wear head coverings and adopt modest attire from the onset of puberty. The legislation is ambiguous regarding acts that defy moral standards, and the authorities have frequently pursued legal action against numerous individuals for both such transgressions and consensual relationships outside of marriage.
There are so many girls who don’t see themselves as girls – which is not the case for me – but they’re not allowed to express their identity. They get punished for that.
When I walked around the city with my shaved head, I got stopped by the morality police and was ordered to pull down my trousers so they could check my gender. I refused, and they took me with them. I was checked by a woman, and my parents had to come get me. It wasn’t a piece of cake. I would say I have a very strong sense of justice and rebellion too.
KALTBLUT: This happened around 13 years ago, which shows that the situation hasn’t progressed at all. Last year, when Jina Mahsa Amini was killed by the morality police, as well as several other women, there was a huge international outcry, which has died down as rapidly as it started. How would you look back on last year’s reactions in the West?
Pari: I guess it was an exciting campaign for many people. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen so many crises in the world, and people are taking a stance. However, it also seems that going to protests has become more of a trend than a call to action. The response up to this year has been significant, yet the improvement is non-existent in Iran. I don’t understand the decline in engagement and support but it motivates me to take a closer look and do something.
KALTBLUT: Why do you think that is?
Pari: Fear. In Iran, they have harassed and executed many people. I wouldn’t dare either. Abroad, people only respond when people in Iran risk their lives and make a scene, putting themselves in danger. Iranians are afraid, understandably so, because there are so many prisons; there’s no space left. Because the people in the country have become quieter, people abroad have done the same because they think they’re in the same position. We live in an incredibly privileged country with freedom of speech without the fear of getting arrested or executed.
The idea of not just being among Iranians, but at a concert in Iran brings tears to my eyes.
KALTBLUT: How’s the mood in the exiled community in the West?
Pari: Something has happened in the community that wasn’t there before. That connection wasn’t there. But now it suddenly is. This pain connects Iranians and this longing to see their families again, experience Iran again or to be with people of the same culture. The idea of not just being among Iranians, but at a concert in Iran brings tears to my eyes. Music or singing is prohibited. Music is banned in Iran
Note: Following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, music, especially western music, was prohibited in Iran. This led to the disappearance of record shops and a halt in concert performances. Possession of music deemed ‘un-Islamic’ could result in fines, lashings, or imprisonment for ‘causing corruption on earth’ according to Iranian law.
KALTBLUT: You’ve shared the video to “Chador” today via two Instagram accounts, @officiallyjoko run by Azam Jangravi and @damitdasklaas hosted by Sarah Ramani, formerly owned by the German comedians Joko & Klaas. Tell me a little bit about that.
Pari: It’s important to me that people worldwide see the video, especially in Iran. Someone told me they’re aiming to show it to some prisoners in jail. They spend time there and show works from around the world to these prisoners. And my work, this video, is shown to prisoners. That meant a lot to me and touched me emotionally.