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Ma Liberté

by mana on December 3rd, 2015

When I met Farnaz Zabetian at her home, she was surrounded by other women. As we talked, more of them came out from every corner of the room. Some lay on the floor while I could see others in the living room. Farnaz’s facial features were in most of them, her long black hair and beautiful dark eyes. I could not stop looking at their eyes.

The Beginning, The End

Farnaz Zabetian, “The Beginning, The End,” oil on canvas, 48″ x 60″

Zabetian paints the women of her native Iran. Each face conveys a great depth of emotion and hints at a lifetime of experience. I felt a connection that grew stronger the more I looked at the paintings.

In “The Beginning, the End,” an attractive woman stares at us. Her black dress strewn with small red roses has a tender femininity. Her red lips seen through the black floral veil are inviting but her eyes are distant. You can read in them a profound weariness and detachment. Her pretty face may be a mask that conceals her unhappiness.
Only by looking into her eyes can we understand her true feelings.

Zabetian has written a poem that accompanies this painting. Translated from Persian, it says ” I told my mother, it’s all over. I said, it always happens before you think of it.” Zabetian is concerned with the struggles of women in Middle Eastern societies to fulfill the roles that are expected of them. In order to appear strong and capable, they can suffer great pain within. Her goal is to let us look into the interior of these brave women.

When I was in Paris, I encountered a brave Middle Eastern woman who struggles with the expectations of society. It was in the movie “Wadjda.” Wadjda is a young Saudi girl who dreams of having a bike and racing against her friend Abdullah. Wadjda’s mother, with whom she has a warm relationship, rejects this scandalous idea. “If you ride a bike, you won’t be able to have children,” she warns her.

Wadjda remains determined and tries various schemes to raise money for the bike. She is thwarted at every turn. Finally, she signs up for a competition at her school to chant verses from the Quran. The prize will give her enough money to buy the bike. Her mother teaches her how to chant. At school her teachers are amazed at her sudden increase in piety. Her verses are concerned with love and compassion and she chants them beautifully. She wins the competition but the headmistress takes away the prize when she learns that Wadjda intends to buy a bike. Her mother is persuaded by Wadjda’s determination and finally gives her the bike that she wants so much.

In all the women that Zabetian paints, there is the spirit of a little girl like Wadjda. They have dreams and aspirations for themselves like people everywhere. As Wadjda’s bicycle illustrates, they live in societies that have strongly enforced ideas of what roles are appropriate for women. Reconciling these social expectations with the need for self expression imposes burdens with consequences for themselves and the next generation that they are raising.


Farnaz Zabetian, “Tranquility,” oil on canvas, 36″ x 48″

The woman in “Tranquility” resembles the one in the first painting but she is at peace. She has let her guard down and is lost in her own thoughts. One suspects that this moment will quickly pass. The full title of the work is “Tranquility is a square that has no corners.”

The demands of the society constrain all of us, but most of all the Middle Eastern women that Zabetian depicts. The tension between having a connection to the society around you and the search for your individual freedom is an endless struggle, a paradox like the square that has no corners.

From → Musings

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