This paper is concerned with the “ṣawt al-mar’ah thawrah” protest slogan and its iteration during the 2011-3 Egyptian revolutionary era. I am interested in the slogan’s negotiation between voice and virtue amid an overarching political context of heightened popular mobilization surrounding questions of gender equality, power, and national religiosity. Reflecting on this and a number of related chants included in a short video of a 2012 woman-led protest (Yqeennews2), I discuss their representation of feminist voice during Egypt’s 2011-3 uprising and the associations of this voice with concepts of virtue (or lack thereof) in the Egyptian public sphere. Central to any analysis of Egyptian protest slogans is a recognition of their poetic roots and intertextual dimensions. To do so, I use Elliott Colla’s work on Egyptian movement poetry and Adriana Cavarero’s understanding of vocal expression.
Moreover, discussing Egyptian feminist protest slogans in the western academy necessarily entails a process of translation of both language and politics. I focus on how the voice relayed through these feminist protest chants may be translated effectively into English so that the translation captures the complexity of its attributes and articulations, maintains its marked political commitment, and continues to hold revolutionary weight and relevance for English-speaking audiences. To this end, I am guided by Sarah Hawas’ approach to translating revolution, defined by its commitment to a politics of difference relayed in terms that resonate with discursive concerns on the global stage.
This paper finds that the protest slogans in question entail a dislodging of voice from questions of virtue and display a complex, layered understanding of voice itself. I argue that the power of women’s voice in this poetic/protest moment goes beyond its capacity to carry speech and encompasses elements of performance, physicality, and organization. Finally, in terms of the video recording, I highlight how its editorial structure and videographic techniques reveal an intimate understanding of voice and how it can be expressed through the filming, editing, and posting of such a pivotal protest/poetic moment.
The artists, Shadi Ghadirian (b.1974) and Sepideh Salehi (1972) adopt a hybrid form of narrative to confront the restrictions imposed on women of their generation. Focusing on motives such as the objectification of women, the censorship imposed on women’s public as well as private image and the lack of ownership over one’s own identity and body, they depict the decline of women’s rights. Inspired by the events of their lives, questioning the social patriarchy, they shed light on the concurrent struggles, growing dogma and the constraints that deprived women of their freedom.
As a Persian female researcher and artist growing up in Iran, two generations after the artists, based on my PhD research and interviews with the artists, I trace the impact of art in retrieving one’s voice versus the Otherness imposed on women. Basing myself on the ideas of the Russian philosopher Michael Bakhtin (1895-1975), namely his concept of polyphony or the plurality of contradictory voices, and the views of Judith Butler on othering and giving an account to oneself, I analyse how through their works the artists confront and exceed restrictions, depict and reunify the fragmented female identity and image.
I analyse, by choosing a hyperbolic approach towards nostalgia and bans, Ghadirian confronts the futility of dogma on modern women. Similarly, Salehi takes the effect of these regressions and focuses on the internalisation of dogma as a social convention. Salehi highlights how women have been deprived of ownership over their own bodies. Further, I examine the artists’ self-portraits and their references to the decline of the feminine image in private as well as public settings. As a contextual narrative, each of the selected works embodies a new wave of feminist ideologies which resonates with the concurrent Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran. As a symbolic means of self-expression and an act of rebellion, the artworks epitomise the urgency for reconstructing an authentic and liberal form of identity for women under suppression.
In 2011, the Kurdish artist Hadi Ziaoddini created a sculpture of the Kurdish women poet and chronicler Masture Ardalan (1805-1847). Located in the city of Sine (Sanandaj) and carrying a book in her hand, the statue is a unique example of a woman figure standing in the Islamic Republic of Iran. She occupies an important place in the upper part of Sine and is the only woman statue in Iran which does not wear hijab but Kurdish kofi. The many details of her outward appearance were long negotiated with the regime. What is more, the sculpture was reproduced in a smaller size and found its way to the Kurdish houses, bookstores and museums.
As stressed by many women artists: “Masture carries a book and represents herself, a woman individual who managed to find herself and did something interesting in her life” which corresponds with their own desires to develop professional skills and to express themselves through art and literature. In recent decade the figure of Masture Ardalan and her sculpture by Ziaoddini inspired many young women in Iranian Kurdistan to – as they say – “enter the men’s world” and develop their interests in modern literature, painting and photography. Furthermore, depicted in Kurdish cloths Masture makes visible the marginalised Kurdish identity which along with the Kurdish slogan “jin, jiyan, azadî” (woman, life, freedom) attracted attention of the Iranians who took to the streets in September 2022 after the killing of Jîna (Mahsa) Aminî.
As stressed by Bærenholdt and Haldrup (2015) the process of heritage-making can be understood as a performance engaging the artist who recreates the past, the site where the representation of the past is located and the people who interpret and make further use of the artwork. It can illuminate the marginalised aspects of the past by bringing the female subject into view (Morgan 2016). It challenges the subtle forms of dehumanisation (Kozak 2006, Tarnowska 2012) by highlighting the intellectual and artistic potentials of women. Hence, it inspires women agency where self-development and self-confidence become the crucial factors ‘to enter the men’s world’ in order to transform it. Based on the interviews with Hadi Ziaoddini and the seventeen women artists, writers and activists conducted in Iranian Kurdistan in July 2022, as well as on my photography project, in the presentation I am going to discuss the nuanced relationship between the Kurdish heritage-making and the women agency and empowerment.