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t is forbidden to take photos inside or around Evin, Iran’s most notorious prison. Those who break these rules can pay the ultimate price. In the summer of 2003 an Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer, Zahra Kazemi, died inside Evin after taking pictures of the families of missing students, demonstrating outside the prison gates. The Iranian authorities claimed that Kazemi’s death was accidental, but a medical examiner concluded that she had been tortured and killed.
Evin Prison, which was founded in 1972 under the Shah’s monarchy but really came to the fore of statecraft after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, has been a home to all manner of political prisoners through the decades, from academics to philosophers to missionaries to activists. The nature of the people it has held, the size of the place, and the treatment of many who have been detained within its walls, is such that its reputation precedes it.
In Iran, it is prohibited to take pictures in areas deemed to be “sensitive”. But when it comes to Evin, where we don’t have photographs, we do have art: the experiences of prisoners recreated with evocative beauty.
Nasrin Parvaz was part of a wave of idealistic youth who fought for change after the Islamic Revolution, when the Western-backed Shah and a 2,500-year monarchy was overthrown and an Islamic Republic installed. Three years later, aged 23, Parvaz was arrested for her dissent, detained in Evin and sentenced to death. Over the next eight years, she was tortured, starved and made to live in abject conditions.
Parvaz now lives in exile in London. But, for her and other former prisoners, memories of Evin don’t leave. “It isn’t only when you’re in prison,” she says, “it’s also about what you’re bringing with you when you’re out of prison.” Her artistic exploration of her time in Evin began with the idea that there were no pictures or vivid paintings depicting her experience of being a political prisoner.
Her paintings memorialise a place where she suffered greatly but where she also found beauty, friendship and solidarity. What follows is a collection of her work, memorialising the sights and sounds of her imprisonment.
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