The Morality Police

The Gasht-e Ershad, the “Morality Police”

Wearing your headscarf too daringly in Iran can result in action by the morality police. Police forces tasked with implementing strict state interpretations of Islamic morality exist in several states: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Malaysia.

Morality Police

Creativepool 2022 Shortlisted Nominee
People's Choice 2022

The simple act of a woman riding a bicycle - even while wearing a headscarf - is a controversial issue in Iran. 

The same Iranian man shouts at the same Iranian woman
Iranian man shouts at Iranian woman
Morality police stopped girls because they were riding bicycles
Yesterday she enjoyed the wind in her hair on her bicycle and today she got arrested by the authorities in Iran
I really enjoy cycling
If no one can kill her, she should at least lead an underground life
Islamic Republic again bans women from riding bicycles
Last night, in the small Iranian town of Borazjan, a group of 20 women and men went cycling

Hard-liners, including influential clerics, have repeatedly spoken out against it.

They focus on ensuring observance of hijab - mandatory rules requiring women to cover their hair and bodies and discouraging cosmetics.

Room Concept

Women’s cycling in Iran has become a metaphor for the right to choose. The room recreates the oppression, threat and frustration brought by the Morality Police.

Enter by finding your way through the criticism, abuse, and conflict, only to find that something is still keeping the goal out of reach.

See the faces of those who are affected alongside those fighting for change.

Entry to the room is a ramp leading up to a raised platform into an open space. Visitors must find their way through all the hijabs hanging down like theatre curtains. The hijabs show printed quotes and opinions from protestors and hard-liners, which came up in the research for and against the freedom of choice.

The space contains images and artefacts that tell the story of the situation in the countries where the Morality Police enforce the wearing of the hijab. Large-scale banners cover the walls behind the screens; the imposing messages surround the visitor.

The main feature inside the room is a giant sculpture of a bicycle. However, the visitors can’t see the bike as it is draped in black fabric. Anyone who tries to lift or remove the material sets off alarms representing reactions towards the cyclists from the hard-liners.

A call to prayer plays to symbolise the duality of religion. Do you genuinely believe in faith and show honest loyalty to the church, or do you submit to it to avoid the oppression and segregation demonstrated by this room’s message?


Room Experience

Walkthrough: Describing the key points and visual features of the room

1. Visitors enter the room via a ramp through rows of hanging hijabs representing the struggle, hanging down enough that the visitors must push them out of the way.
2. As the visitors go up the ramp to the platform, they become tangled in the overpowering layers. More statements are draped on the walls inside the room.
3. On entering the room, visitors are faced with the 3.5m sculpture. The sculpture would be draped in black fabric and hidden from view (not visualised so you can see the structure). Covering the sculpture represents the conflict between religion and modern viewpoints.
4. To the left of the room are two digital screens. They show portraits of key figures in the resistance towards the religious laws as well as larger photographs of the women featured on the opposite wall.
5. The right-hand wall shows photographs of ordinary Muslim women. Two portraits, with and without their hijab, are set in pairs to compare and contrast. The wall’s surface is bare concrete; visitors can draw their own conclusions. Does it represent the strength of the women or the power of the State?
6. Another screen at the back of the room plays scenes of oppression and resistance from various social media sources linked to specific hashtags. Continued use of those hashtags will keep the stream live.
Above: Detail inside inside the room. The figures next to the fabric-covered bicycle sculpture show a sense of scale. 
Above: The view of the right-hand wall shows the tear-off statements and portraits showing the women with and without their hijab. Visitors are encouraged to take a copy of everything to add to the exhibition scrapbooks.

It looks great! Wish it would become an actual exhibition! (So do we…)

Marina Jaber - Iraqi artist, activist and women's rights advocate. Project contributor.

©Tony Clarkson 2017–2024

error: Content is protected !!