Saba Zavarei is an Iranian writer and researcher stretched between London and Tehran. Zavarei is passionate about autobiographies, whether in her artistic repertoire or her academic work. She has recently launched Radio Khiaban, an online platform featuring Iranian women singing in public spaces, needing to make their voices as widely audible as their need to get over the patriarchal order imposed upon them in Iran. D-CAF’s press team has discussed with Saba the idea behind her platform as well as her views on women’s rights and Iranian feminism.
Q: At the beginning, I would like to know how you moved from sort of a dense academic background towards an artistic career?
I think it’s the other way round. I was an artist first. I was an art student and decided to go on with my studies. My research is practice-based. It’s based on my art works. The theoretical side of my research is based on and informed by the art practice.
Q: How do you see the presentation of Radio Khiaban at D-CAF in Egypt?
I am excited about it. This is the first time for my radio platform to be presented in an arts festival. I am looking forward to see how people are going to receive it in Egypt especially that it discusses the challenges that women in Iran face and I think people in Egypt would be able to relate to it better than for example in London. People in London might wonder why women in Iran need to fight for their right to sing in public, but in Egypt, although the situation is different in many ways, but still women struggle with issues and obstacles of the same nature as those in Iran.
Q: You describe in the first episode of Radio Khiaban that you had this moment of epiphany at Lotf-Ollah Mosque where you removed your headscarf so that you would be able to sing, were you alluding to pre-revolutionary Iran or are you trying to show that religion is not incompatible with women’s voice?
I was born after the revolution, so I don’t really have illusions or fantasies about pre-revolutionary Iran. I have vision and hope for future Iran. I don’t think I was trying to give a reference to anything. I am not a religious person and have never been brought up in a religious environment. So, I have always struggled with restrictions forced upon me. In my family we always respected all religious practices, but at the same time we always resisted these norms to become embedded in us. Looking back at my childhood, whenever I had the chance to express myself, to see if there is a chance to find my freedom, I did it. At that particular moment I felt that I can express myself freely. I think also at that moment, I was not thinking necessarily to connect with others, I was just expressing what I felt bodily, but perhaps I could also say that as a woman, I am part of the collective body that is constantly suppressed and controlled. So maybe in that way I was acting beyond my individual self.
Q: Do you consider Iran women’s movement against compulsory hijab is the Iranian #metoo? Can Iranian women follow this western model or a deep-rooted Iranian feminism is currently needed?
When it comes to feminism, I am not sure that we should divide it into nation states. Feminism seeks equality which is desired all over the world. Every attempt for justice and equality is of course inspiring. They might be influenced, but Iranian women are not copying any other movements. A lot of women are having a daily struggle against the compulsory dress code for women (headscarf). I remember the very first time when I had to wear the headscarf as I had reached seven years old, the age around which female students are obliged to cover their hair as part of their school uniform, I was excited and I felt that it was a sign of becoming an adult but just in a few hours, I started feeling the frustration. So, no one at that point had ever told me that I was oppressed and needed to be liberated; it was just how I felt it in my body.
Q: In what aspects does the Iranian woman differ from Middle Eastern Women?
Living in London for 9 years has taught me how common and relatable we are as women more than how different we might be. I personally have never felt that I organize my thoughts in accordance with political/geographical boundaries. I had the chance in London to realize how similar and close I am to Egyptian, Turkish, and other Arab women. Unfortunately the situation in the so-called Middle East makes us more separate than connected. If we embrace solidarity and join forces, we would be able to see how similar and close we and our sufferings are as women.