Iran has a long-standing history of artistic expression, with its unparalleled contributions in a myriad of art forms: from calligraphy to architecture, music to literature and cinema to tile work. Within this context, it’s preposterous (almost blasphemous!) to even mention the uproar and applause that the nude posing of Iranian actress and pianist Golshifteh Farahani has brought about.
The married actress recently posed nude, along with a handful of other celebrities, for an ad campaign promoting the César 2012, the national film award in France. Whether people say she displayed audacity by posting one of the photos on her own Facebook page, or activism by claiming her decision to pose nude was in protest of restrictive dress codes in her native Iran, I am inclined to believe that posing nude is not an effective strategy when making a statement against a political regime.
Muslim women in the Middle East and North Africa have certainly put themselves out there with bravery in the recent revolutionary wave, often times risking their lives by openly protesting through media outlets and on the streets. But to think that conservative governmental officials are going to reconsider their political agenda because a Muslims woman showed her breasts in a Western country is ludicrous.
Although unofficial sources allege the Iranian government has exiled the actress from the country as a consequence of her nude photo, it is not the first time Farahani has bared some skin– she appeared topless in Corps et Ames, a 1994 French film. Farahani said an official from Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guide told her “Iran does not need any actors or artists. You may offer your artistic services somewhere else.” Whether the comment translates into an official exile is yet to be determined, especially since the actress currently lives in France.
Without understanding any of the 10,000 plus comments left on her Facebook page in Farsi, many of the English ones, which one can safely assume are largely written by Westerners, appear to offer an enthusiastic hurray to Farahani’s “contribution.” One reads, “Well done, kiddo. The treatment of women in Iran and many other Muslim countries is shockingly backward and ignorant,” while another simply says, “You are brave enough; you did what you want regardless of what others say.”
There are some comments condemning her decision as opportunistic and immodest:
It’s a shame when you see that the Persian art has been transformed from great poetries and legendries like Hafez and Sa’di to some nasty and nude “art.” And it’s even more sad when you see that a large number of people actually like it. Do you think nudity is part of a freedom that Iran lacks? If you think so, I deeply feel sorry for you guys!
Courageous or not, Farahani’s Facebook page is “liked” by over half a million people and sits in stark contrast to Shirin Ebadi’s Facebook following of 35,000. The disparity in popularity is both disturbing and an inaccurate indicator of true success. Who is Shirin Ebadi, you ask? Ebadi is the lawyer and human rights activist who won Iran in 2003 its first ever Nobel Prize. She is also the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her significant contributions to women, children and refugee rights in Iran.
As for Farahani, her decision to pose nude in France of all countries leaves me wondering what Muslim French women think of this media sensation as they continue to struggle against the government imposed bans on the headscarf and face veil. Do they view Farahani’s “statement” against Iranian dress code as a gifle au visage, a slap on the face, of their fight to dress modestly? I imagine what a conversation would be like between Farahani and say, Cennet Doganay, the 15-year-old Muslim French girl who shaved her head in 2004 when she was banned from attending public school while wearing a headscarf.
To Farahani I say: anyone is free to take off their clothes in France; if you want to make a true statement of defiance and substance, try slipping on a headscarf. Or you can always put your money where your mouth is and donate some of those Euros to your “oppressed” Muslim sisters.
(Photo Credit: Hossein Derakhshan)
Enith Morillo is a scientist by profession and a writer by passion. Her writing is featured in “Many Poetic Voices, One Faith” and “Many Voices, One Faith II: Islamic Fiction Stories.” She is also the media liaison for the grass-root movement Healthy Families Initiative, a program dealing with domestic abuse in the Rhode Island Muslim community. You can contact her via email at enithcm [at] gmail.com.