Black Hand: Tehran’s Graffiti Artist vs. Clerics

When Iranian women were barred from sports stadiums last month, a mural went up on a street in Tehran depicting a woman wearing the national jersey, triumphantly holding aloft a bottle of dishwashing liquid, as if it were the World Cup itself.

It was signed: Black Hand.

Photographs of the mural went viral on social media. After two weeks, authorities covered the whole mural with red paint.

This was part of the game of cat and mouse played by the underground artist Black Hand, who has been labeled as Iran’s Banksy, the British graffiti artist. For years, state-sponsored graffiti and murals have emerged depicting revolutionary heroes, martyred soldiers, religious figures, or even messages such as “Death to America,” or urging the masses to uproot and wipe Israel “from pages of history.”

Recently, as part of a beautification campaign, artist and designer Mehdi Ghadyanloo had introduced surreal humor to Tehran’s streets.

But Black Hand’s graffiti is political and not state-sponsored. His signature tag is becoming famous in Tehran, where his graffiti is quickly captured on mobile phones and spread via Twitter or Instagram, both officially banned in Iran. He can also be surreal in his sense of humor. One graffiti simply reads: “Based on article 92 of municipalities regulation unauthorized advertisements and graffiti is illegal. Signed Black Hand”

After his mural of the triumphant woman was red-washed by the authorities, Black Hand wrote the link to a YouTube video. Follow the link and you’ll find a video recording of Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jaffari addressing a group of commanders and admitting that the 2009 elections were manipulated by the Guards.

Despite the efforts of city workers to paint over the graffiti, Black Hand seems to find new spots.

Now if only he could get art houses to auction his work.

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