On my couch (I bought it with the advance for my first novel) is a paisley pattern blanket. Most of the time I read on the sofa, leaning back against the armrest with my feet up on the cushions. In order to protect the armrest, I lay the paisley blanket over it. Sometimes, when it’s cold, I wrap myself up in it. Recently I’ve been feeling queasy when I hold the blanket in my hands.
The person who gave me the blanket is called Parastou Forouhar. Parastou Forouhar is currently appearing in the media as “an artist living in Germany, who would be arrested in Iran.” Normally she lives in Offenbach, barely three kilometres away from me, when she isn’t travelling to one of her many exhibitions. Parastou Forouhar is an artist of international renown, her exhibitions have been in New York, Istanbul and Vienna, and she put on an exhibition for the German Bundestag (Federal Government). We got to know each other in 2006 as scholarship holders at the Villa Massimo (German Art Institute) in Rome.
My blanket, which I now need more and more ever since the onset of winter, does not have any figures on it, just the ornamental pattern. Parastou Forouhar is an artist who often works with ornaments. Unlike my blanket however, these ornaments are always revealed to be figural upon closer inspection. They are doing horrible things to each other. If you go to her homepage, you are greeted by two figures: one is blindfolded and has its hands tied; the second figure goes over to the blindfolded one and, with a violence that bears the hallmarks of routine rather than anger, pushes the first’s head down, followed by its whole body, and finally presses its knee against the other’s throat, which is by now prostrate on the ground. It is a very short animation and it always starts again from the beginning. It never stops.
Parastou Forouhar’s story has always touched me in peculiar way. I have known the family from the pages of the newspaper for a long time. I was writing my first novel at the time, 1998. There was a series of political assassinations of Iranian intellectuals at the time and at one point even a former minister was murdered. It was a time of slaughter, as if they had all been deemed outlaws in one fell swoop. In the villa I found out that the murdered ex-minister was Parastou Forouhar’s father Dariush; Parwaneh Forouhar, the mother, was stabbed innumerable times until she died on the same day. Pictures of Parastou Forouhar at her parents’ grave can be seen on the internet. They are reminiscent of a scene in Fritz Lang’s “Nibelungen” (The Nibelungs), in which he portrays Kriemhild’s grief. But one is art and the other actually happened. Parastou Forouhar’s life story is too overwhelming; you have to strip it down as she does: with her it is mere stick figures that commit the worst deeds most of the time, such as torture and murder.
Over time I have come to terms with the fact that Parastou Forouhar is different from all the other people that I know. I don’t mean the willingness to live joyfully as if every day was cause for celebration; I also don’t mean the sincerity of her actions, her self-confidence and straightforwardness in creating art that can make one downright envious, even if it does originate from her parents’ murder. No, I am talking about the strength that all of this costs. I realised, perhaps for the first time back then, just what sort of strengths you have to acquire when the circumstances demand it. In German we have the image of “growing beyond one’s own limits”. Not to say that I ever thought that Parastou Forouhar’s life was bound to her parents through their murder, or that their murder gave her something like an aim. I saw a person in front of me who has just had to deal with things. And she has grown because of it instead of letting it break her.
The first step was the attempt to investigate and solve the murders. The proceedings conspicuously left many questions unanswered. The futile attempts to uncover the reasons for the crimes before the court – the Forouhars were assassinated by employees of the Ministry of Information – and to determine the authorities behind the political murders can be read on Parastou Forouhar’s website. After this she then began to organise an annual memorial service for her parents on the day of their deaths, the 21st of November, that has since developed into a mass meeting with countless people filling the streets around the house of the late Forouhars. It was a thorn in the state’s side. The meeting was subjected to increasing amounts of regulations and eventually the state went so far as it ban it from occurring in her parents’ house completely. Nevertheless, Parastou travels to Iran every year to make the commemoration possible. Otherwise, as she says, her parents would die all over again.
She once said that, “for me, going to Tehran meant going to a cemetery.” So this time her passport was withdrawn as she was leaving the country. She was told that the officials didn’t like it when she spoke about her parents’ death whilst she was abroad. It remains to be seen whether or not she will get her passport back in the next few days. What matters to her is ensuring that she isn’t forced to depart in hurry. Instead she wants to find a solution that doesn’t only permit her to go back to her family in Offenbach, but one that also enables her to return to Iran and her parents’ house in the future.