Seven prominent lecturers of the Tehran University of Art sculpture department have been banned from teaching at this university. Bijan Ghonchehpour, Rasoul Akbarlou, Pouya Arianpour, Hamid Shans, Mohammad Hossein Emad, Iman Afsarian, and Koroush Golnari, who was the head of the sculpture department, are all well-known artists in Iran who have, since January 2023, been banned from the campus of the Tehran University of Art.
Besides Koroush Golnari, all of the other 6 tutors who were banned from campus, worked for the university under zero hour contracts and were banned from teaching at the university for this semester without any official verdict. Since the beginning of the protests that started in September 2022 up until today, the total number of suspended tutors and those who were banned from teaching amounts to more than tens of individuals.
According to a verdict received by Koroush Golari, the previous head of the Tehran University of Art’s sculpture department, posted on his personal Instagram account about a month ago, he has been suspended from all kinds of educational and research functions for one semester, starting in the second semester of the academic years 2022-2023. His crime is stated as “aiming for the disruption of the educational process.”
Below is the suspension verdict that Koroush Golnari posted on his personal Instagram page.
Simultaneously, in the first days of February 2023, Mohammad Khodadadi Motarjemzadeh was fired from his position as the head of the fine arts department of the Tehran University of Art by Mohammad Reza Hosnai, the university dean.
Threatening students’ families because of performing a political art piece
According to an insider source, the wave of increased suspensions of prominent tutors from the sculpture department was ignited by an art piece, called 24 Graves which was performed by students of the sculpture department on October 17, 2022. On this day, in the courtyard of the Tehran University of Art and with the participation of other students, the sculpture students created 24 graves as a symbol of the 24-hour murder and oppression of protestors by the regime.
Shortly after the creation of this piece, the university security guards prevented the continuation of this performance by attacking and threatening the students. Subsequently, the guards closed the university doors and did not allow students to leave the university building for hours. After this incident, Mohammad Hossein Motarjemzadeh, the former head of the university’s fine arts department, defended the students’ legal right to the creation of artistic pieces and demanded the end of the Herasat guards’ violent acts against students. Herasat is a part of the Islamic Republic’s surveilling body. These local institutions that are present at every governmental organization –and thus each university in Iran– apply the regime’s ideologies by proxy and surveilling employees, students, workers, and tutors.
What followed, was that a number of sculpture students were banned from entering the university campus and then summoned by the state’s on-campus surveilling body merely because of the student’s participation in the performance of “24 Graves”.
Only two days after the performance of this symbolic artistic piece in the courtyard of the Tehran University of Art, the sculpture students were summoned to the main Herasat Institute– the overarching surveilling body of this university.
An insider source who spoke with Zamaneh, describes the experience of their confrontation with the main Herasat Institute, a building with no house number and no signboard in Felestin Street, in the proximity of the supreme leader’s headquarters, as such:
“On the 19th of October, exactly 2 days after the artwork 24 Graves was performed in the university courtyard, the summoning of students to this building started. In this building, the head and the deputy of the Herasat (this surveilling body) demanded the summoned students to stop their political activists and protests. The students were threatened with expulsion from the university and told that if they don’t stop their political activities they will be denied the right to leave the county and safety issues will occur for their family members at their workplaces.”
Following these summonings, at the beginning of last November, a group of students and tutors from the university’s fine arts department wrote a letter addressing Mohammad Reza Hossnai, the university dean. In this letter, the students and tutors protested against the oppression of students and the entry of police forces to the university campus as a reaction to the students’ protests and strikes. Not only did this letter not solve the issue of student safety on the university campus, but it also caused the worsening of Hosnai, the university dean’s, anger towards the protesting students and the tutors who supported them.
In this letter, the students and tutors of the University’s Fine Arts department –of which the sculptor department is part– demanded the dean of the Tehran University of Art to bring an end to the banning of students from entering the university, taking their university cards, and the illegal organization of disciplinary committee meetings. They also demanded the university officials accommodate the organization of open mics and panel discussions in which students can engage in conversations with the university officials.
The students and tutors demand tolerance and the official’s iron fist
The news of students being suspended, or banned from entering the university, and the presence of police forces and undercover officers inside as well as outside of the Tehran University of Art has increased since the begging of the first semester of 2022-2023.
For example, on 23 October, approximately a month since the start of the protests known as the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement, a Telegram channel run by the Tehran University of Art’s protesting students named “the independent media of the Art University” wrote in regard to the surveilled atmosphere inside and outside the university:
“After not allowing students to enter the university campus, police forces, and the praetorian guards showed up in front of Pardis, Baq Melli. Undercover officers made pictures of the students’ faces. Right now, an undercover officer is present in the Herasat room at the entrance of Baq Melli.”
In a statement published on January 17, 2023, a group of students at the Tehran University of Art announced the suspension of a number of sculpture students following the performance of the symbolical graves and announced their support for the collective strike of the sculpture department’s tutors and students.
In the first half of the academic year 2022-2023, following the widespread violations and increased surveillance, and the university officials’ lack of attention to the students’ demands, the sculpture students of the Tehran University of Arts withdrew from attending university classes. This strike was met with the widespread support of the sculpture department tutors. The 7 individuals mentioned above were part of the tutors’ body supporting the students’ strikes. In the same semester, these 7 individuals were deprived of the right to teach. These tutors’ crime: supporting their students.
Besides the published statement by the sculpture students and the Fine Arts department of the Tehran Art University, in an unpublished letter written in the early days of the Woman, Life, Freedom Movement, the tutors of this university had already demanded university officials to contain from the further oppression of students. Our attempts at finding a copy of this letter, however, failed.
In the Tehran Art University, the amount of all suspended, and expelled tutors and those who were denied the right to teach is more than the seven sculpture tutors mentioned above. According to the Telegram channel, The Independent Media of The Tehran Art University, in March 2023, based on the letters sent out by the Herasat department of this university more than 30 tutors who were appointed by the university with zero hour contracts were denied teaching in the current semester and besides Amir Maziar, one of the professors of the Tehran University of Art, 6 other members of the professors’ board were also suspended.