« When nothing sings to you, sing to yourself » At Evin, life goes on…

Under house arrest, on the occasion of her 18 months of deprivation of liberty, Fariba sent us these words: « Without doubt there is a life after Evin, but in Evin, there is also a life in which we must continue to hope, to sing, to resist. After a year and a half, it is this life, the way we survive it, that I want to talk about with you who support my cause: to save research. Saying THANK YOU! »

« When nothing sings to you, sing to yourself »

At Evin, life goes on…

Let’s be prosaic, or if you prefer, down to earth! When there is fight for survival, it’s a good sign. It means life goes on, even if it is in prison. Fighting against boredom is part of it and, well, my life as a prisoner ­— for I can only speak for myself, or rather I no longer dare to speak for others — is full of signs that pay homage, as the subtitle of this text announces, to Kiarostami. It is, so to speak, a hymn to life. Proof of this are the little frames, large and small, that you have before your eyes and on which I spent two and a half months of my stay in Evin thinking about poetry, my family and my friends. Thinking also and especially of you, all of you who have mobilized for me or more exactly for my cause: saving research. In doing so, I was also trying to flee the very narrow place of my « confinement », despite the incredible means at our disposal. One day, I will talk about all this.

Faced with the wait, the fate of any convict, the most difficult thing for a prisoner to face is undoubtedly to untangle why she is in detention and to manage the daily routine. Cut off from everything, knowing that she is now dependent on many people, in confinement — her family for financing her needs and for news about both her private life and her legal fate, the prison staff, who hold in their hands the material management of the inmates, and finally her fellow inmates with whom, henceforth, she has to share her days. In this situation, confusion is the norm, given the violent conflicts that constantly erupt, not only between the inmates, but also between them and the prison staff, not to mention the conflicts with the family, often on the telephone or on the day of the weekly visit. In reality, we all « crack up  » at one time or another, and this is probably also why we make sure that our lives as inmates are very busy, between cooking, sports, reading, training workshops, not to mention hygiene and cleanliness, the number one concern of the inmates. We train ourselves and some of us train the others in sports sessions or in learning a language. We all try to have objects or handmade products to give to the family once a month, on the day when this material transfer is authorized by the prison administration. 

It is therefore a way of life and a matter of survival to engage in creating works. It is a way to kill time, to fight boredom when one is forced to wait days, even months, without any hope of change. Each prisoner invents her own mode of survival. Depending on the particular moment and their tastes, everyone finds something to keep them busy … to the point where prisoners often find themselves saying: « I don’t have time »!

It was therefore for my survival or to overcome boredom that I too, like the others, started to tinker. I first picked up scraps of leather, mainly from Nazanin Zaghari, a true artist who made beautiful bags that everyone envied, but also from Atena Daemi and Saba Kordafshar, who also made bags, but more with profit in mind. When leather became scarce because of an unexplained ban, I went for wood. Not being very good at it, I began to recycle the remains of those who spent their mornings, five days a week, working in the wood workshop. I opted for the « cut and paste » method, as we say in today’s jargon. In other words, I owe these frames, or these collages, to those who did a very professional cutting job, cutting remarkable pieces of wood. I even owe them to the male prisoners, because the women’s section also collected bags of wood scraps worked by prisoners who seemed to have other means, since wood was expensive, but also other cadences because they were more numerous and were also more productive for monetary reasons. In all these remains, I found particularly beautiful scraps, including those of Zahra Zehtabchi, known as Sâzeman (literally the Organization, or diminutive of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization) who for more than a year did very fine work on a large painting she had finished a few weeks before my transfer to house arrest. At the risk of forgetting some, I would also like to mention Sepideh Farahni and Hadis Sabouri, civil society activists who kept providing me with scraps, not to mention Soheila Hejab, from whom I inherited the « bits and pieces » and « scraps » when she left, with the consent of the person in charge of the workshop, and in which I notably found very beautifully carved letters. To all of these women, and men too, I am indeed grateful.

As for the shapes, they revealed themselves to me as they were being made. In reality, the diversity of the colors of the wood and the shapes of these scraps made the work of « copy-paste » very pleasant. The colors and the lines set the tone, like a call. My fellow inmates did the rest, often coming to look at what was gradually appearing under my hands, commenting, even suggesting compositions, supporting me with words and showing their interest or their preference for one or the other frames. I put their names on the frames they had chosen, so that I could offer them a gift… when that will be possible: Noulifar Bayani, Sepideh Kashani Doust, Mojgan Keshavarz, Fatemeh Mosanna, Zahra Zehtabchi, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Maryam Akbari Monfared, among others, are waiting for them. I finalized the titles with the help of Niloufar Bayani, a member of an NGO dedicated to protecting the environment: “la vie sauvage” (frame No. 4), that was her field and her suggestion. She enjoyed it very much, and I am very grateful for her support as well as that of Sepideh Kashani, from the same NGO. Throughout my pre-trial detention, which lasted seven and a half months at 2Alef (the name of the detention area within Evin under the authority of the Revolutionary Guards), they shared the same cell with Kylie Moore-Gilbert and I nicknamed them « the three minarets » because twice a day, as they crossed the corridor in front of my cell to go and enjoy the 30 minutes of havâkhori (taking fresh air) in a small courtyard, they threw to me with laughter, joy and energy, a call to life, not to mention of course the fruit and other sweets they provided me with, the fridge serving as an intermediary.

Of course, there were other calls to life that I could not forget. That of Jean-François Bayart, who had introduced me in the 1980s to political anthropology and to Africa, with a fine collection of articles, photocopied, entitled « Popular Modes of Political Action » and which were much ahead of Subaltern Studies. It was with him that I also learned that “one train can hide another”. A catchphrase which, curiously, always reminded me and still reminds me of a Koranic verse (Sura 94), ان مع العسر یسرا, (distress carries comfort within it) and of course my father, because like Mohamed Tozy, a great Moroccan researcher and academic, I am a cultural Muslim and my relationship with religion is first and foremost emotional and pays tribute to my childhood, to the places dear to me, to the food I love, and especially to my parents who never doubted my sincerity and my integrity. May they rest in peace.

The call to life, also, from my friend Christine Meyer, from the first days of my arrival in France, in Strasbourg. She liked to recall a phrase of Mallarmé: « Life is worth nothing, but nothing is worth life », when things were not going well for one or the other of us. She and her family gave me such an invaluable welcome that Alsace became my second homeland and the Meyer family my second family, with whom I spent so many holidays and whom I accompanied every year to church to celebrate Christmas and sing together « the divine child », and so many other Glorias. It is to her that I dedicate these collages, as it is to her that I owe my initiation to French poetry and art, although it is my fault only that I have been a bad pupil. 

Finally, the call to life and hope that resounded in my ears also came from poetry. Iranian poetry, of course, but also French poetry that I have been translating, for the past ten years or so, with Christine’s help on extracts from an anthology that she had given me as a gift and that the Akhbar-rooz site was kind enough to publish on internet. I am thinking in particular of the poems of Eugène Guillevic: rewritten from memory, and as I remember, the title of this text is a nod to one of his poems. With all these calls for hope and the memory of the people who supported me so much, all I had to do was to transform the constraint of my confinement into opportunity and into hope for a better life.

I would like here to have a thought for my interlocutors, numerous, who, during over thirty years of professional life, at one time or another opened the door of their home, as well as their hearts, and shared their experience with me: political, religious, even military leaders, bazaar merchants, colleagues and academics, students, friends, family and other acquaintances, Iranian Afghans and Afghan immigrants in precarious situations, ordinary citizens, women and men, young and old. I will never know if the news of my arrest had the effect of worrying them and/or disturbing them. It is very difficult, in the climate of doubt and suspicion that prevails after an arrest and the accusations that accompany it, to convince and be convinced, but I would simply like to salute them and tell them that my research owes a lot to their confidence. This trust has been and remains my pride as a researcher. I have not betrayed it and I will not betray it for anything in the world.

A thought also for all the women I knew during my imprisonment and who I left behind bars in the women’s section. I want to wish them not an electronic bracelet, like the one I am wearing at the moment under house arrest and without the possibility of movement, but color, light and calm, because for the rest, I know that although they are very different from each other, their struggle continues and that life in prison often gives other reasons to resist.

Finally, a thought for my partner, Roland, whose country has given me everything – to use a phrase from the former President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy – and in particular a job that has allowed me to grow while keeping my autonomy and freedom of thought (what a great gift!) while my country took from him nine months of his life, simply for having been a researcher, and what’s more, used him as a bargaining chip. For he too was simply doing his job by inviting an Iranian researcher to a meeting in France. Unrecognizable in the photos he sent me, I would have hoped to have the chance to experience in my homeland another form of « dialogue of civilizations ». This Iran that I love and that I want, that I want not only for all Iranians, but for all those who live here, work here and whose hearts beat for it, like the Afghan Iranians. It is a beautiful lesson, yet another that I learned in France, not in the classroom but in life, having been accepted as I am, an Iranian woman who loves living in France for personal and professional reasons. In order to conduct this dialogue, one needs free speech. Research is the watering hole of freedom. Let’s save research, let’s save history to save freedom, this is our bold republican demand.

Box (to be put after the long text)

These collages were sent from the prison itself, under the watchful eye of the prison staff, as we were allowed to send our objects and other creations to our family once a month. It must be said that at Evin, we all feel like misunderstood artists… like our cause! My family had taken it upon themselves to share them with my friends in France by transferring them the photo of some of these collages. When I left Evin under house arrest with an electronic bracelet, it was Beatrice Hibou who asked me to send her the entire collection (86 pieces).

Not being an artist, I started to send her some rather whimsical images like the ones you are about to see… to brighten up these frames, and also to make fun of myself because I owe this work to those who really do know how to carve wood. Beatrice liked them all the same, she who has tucked me in and tucked me in again never leaving me since my house arrest. As I did them thinking of you, we decided to share them with you today, this day that « celebrates » a year and a half that I have been deprived of my freedom.

They are organized around 5 themes:

Sketches and memories

Poetry and hope

How not to laugh about it

Wildlife

Tenderness and affection

Elisabeth Frouart’s artistic eye and precious help did the rest, and my word the essential… to the point that I have difficulty recognizing my collages! Thank you.

Traduction par Loraine Kennedy


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