The three women in the Clarion Alley mural In Memory Of are familiar to anyone steeped in Iranian literary history.
Simin Daneshvar, Simin Behbahani, and Forough Farrokhzad are iconic figures in Iran, known for their poetry and fiction. In the West, Behbahani may be the best known: She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1997, and in 2008 was named the first recipient of Stanford’s Bita Prize for Literature and Freedom. She was affectionately called “the lioness of Iran.”
Iranian-born artists Shaghayegh Cyrous and Keyvan Shovir, who are partners, put up In Memory Of in the summer of 2015, after creating an earlier Clarion Alley work that portrayed writers and artists imprisoned in Iran.
Cyrous, 29, came to the United States to attend art school just after the 2009-10 political protests that roiled her country, and decided to stay in San Francisco, where she’s now a Masters student at the California College of Arts. She and Shovir live in Walnut Creek.
“Things changed because of the Green Movement. It was a challenging time,” she says of the Iran protests that developed after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 re-election.
“I don’t have a choice,” she says about going back to Iran or staying in the United States. “I really like the Bay Area because people are more open-minded, and there’s a great diversity. I’m enjoying here but also missing home.”
Cyrous’ work in Clarion Alley and on other public projects has helped alleviate her uprootedness, and it’s prompted her to speak with people not only about her art, but about Iran. “I didn’t have experience of different cultures, to get to know them,” she says about her life in Iran. “Having conversations and learning about other people — I realized that we are all kind of the same.”