“Changing the World, One Wall at a Time” was an evocative documentary, with a powerful message.
The “Changing the World, One Wall at a Time” screening took place at the Tabernacle, Notting Hill, on July 29th. The central focus of the documentary was “The Education is Not a Crime” campaign, one of the world’s largest street art and human rights campaigns, which seeks to raise awareness of the situation of Iranian Baha’is. The Baha’i’s are the largest religious minority in Iran and are routinely persecuted by the Iranian government. This persecution includes being denied the right to higher education — as well as a range of other state-led systematic forms of human rights abuse. The campaign was initiated by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian Canadian journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist, who wanted the situation of Iranian Baha’is to be known globally.
The documentary was an immersive experience, guiding viewers through more than 40 murals which were painted in locations ranging from New York to London; South Africa to Sao Paolo and Delhi to Atlanta, as part of the campaign. The murals were created using graffiti, which has been used throughout history as a tool for the marginalised in society to express their concerns.
The most poignant part of the documentary were the individual stories of Baha’i’s who fled to the United States to receive a university education. Before they left Iran, they studied at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an “underground university” set up by Baha’i professors to educate young Baha’i’s, and from there they went on to study at universities around the world. The murals were emblematic of their stories, and the obstacles they had to overcome.
The documentary was well-received by the audience, earning huge ovations at the end.
A question- and- answer session followed the screening, where it was revealed that the next step in the campaign was to build bus shelters in Detroit, complimenting a new school bus route in the community, called the GOAL line, pioneering by Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan. The bus shelters will be covered with artwork, the campaign team said. It was also mentioned that a mural in Brooklyn was vandalised with paint balls and had to be covered up, showing that the campaign is not without pitfalls.
Executive producers Maziar Bahari and Saleem Vaillancourt, as well as prominent Baha’i artist, Hooper C. Dunbar, sat down with KCW Today for an insightful conversation into the campaign:
Q: You are a very well- renowned artist. This is a topic that has been broached before, but why do you think art is so powerful as a tool? Do you think it is because can express themselves through art without having to voice their opinions?
Hooper C. Dunbar: That is part of it. You can put into art what you can’t put into speech. It has its own realm, through image- making. It touches us in ways that other mediums can’t.
Q: What struck you the most about the Baha’i’s? What drew you into the cause?
Dunbar: I became a Baha’i when I was just turning 18. I had a very deep spiritual experience, which was overwhelming. I heard about the Baha’i religion and felt the same vibrations, and was attracted to the words they were giving right away. The leader of the Baha’i faith has impressed the world with a concept that God is one, that all the human race is one family. Any movement that moves against that concept comes apart. He has stamped this amazing vision on the world. Things on the street can be linked to this concept, such as interracial couples on the street. Through film making, through television, we can witness events like the Olympics, and we can see the concept that we are all one people. No race is less than another race.
Q: Moving onto you now, Maziar and Saleem. Have you both been to Harlem?
Maziar Bahari: Yes.
Saleem Vaillancourt: I lived there.
Q: What did you both think of it? Do you think it is as iconic as it is often portrayed? Did you get that feel?
Bahari: We wanted to create a visual alliance between the African American community and the Baha’i community because of the similar experiences that they went through, and that is why we chose Harlem. Harlem is the bastion of the Civil Rights Movement, but also it is one of the bastions of African American art and the Harlem Renaissance. We thought that is was really important, and we did a few murals in different parts of New York, and when we did it in Harlem, people really identified with us.
Vaillancourt: I’ve lived in several parts of New York. New York is famously alienating, but Harlem was the complete opposite. There was a strong sense of community: people are genuinely interested in getting to know you and each other, and see how they can be part of your life. That was really inspiring, and that is why the campaign worked so well there.
Q: Lastly, do you think that any other medium would have been as successful as art?
Bahari: Each medium has its limitations, and each medium is different. It depends on time, the place, the artist, it depends on the message and the concept. Maybe in the hands of another artist, in another place, music might have been more powerful, or theatre. I think visual arts and paintings are things that everyone can identify with, and also a lot of people aspire to be painters. It may look easy, but as soon as people put a pen in their hand, they realise it takes a lot of time to get right.
Q: Thank you all for your time. Congratulations on the documentary; it was incredibly empowering.
For anyone that would like to get involved with the campaign, please follow this link for more information: http://www.notacrime.me/thefilm