ICY and SOT | Interview
In the midst of the many challenges we face today, art becomes a powerful voice. Artists ICY and SOT share their thoughts with us about their work, their experiences and the critical issues of our time.
ICY and SOT | EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
The re:art: ICY and SOT, how do you see the world today?
ICY&SOT: We see it less balanced than ever, we can literally see the global warming happening, we see the refugee crisis, racism, terrorism, Islamophobia happening more than ever but we still see today’s bright side, more people are engaging to fight against these heartbreaking issues or are becoming aware of them and, on the other side, we always see all the simple beautiful things that are surrounding us – good people, nature and beers.
R: What do you believe is currently the greatest threat to human and artistic freedom?
I&S: The greatest threat is blocking their voices, dreams and blocking them at the borders.
R: Last year we were writing about the results of the 2015 study conducted by Freemuse (details about the 2016 update here) summarizing cases of censorship and threats on artistic freedom in over 70 countries. If in 2015 Iran was second on the list for serious violations, after China, in 2016 “Iran was the worst violating country for serious violations on artistic freedom of expression with 30 registered cases, including an attack on one artist, the imprisonment of 19 artists, prosecution of six others, and persecution of or threat to four artists.”
You were born and grew up in Iran, where you were considered Satanists for being involved in the graffiti movement, your stencil interventions wouldn’t last not even for 24h, you couldn’t attend your own shows abroad, you were arrested and you had to leave school for military service in order to get passports. You moved to Brooklyn a couple of years ago, yet continued to face censorship and violence, as explained in another interview. Tell us about your transition from Iran to US, the opportunities and challenges for you as artists and your current situation as immigrants in a country where the immigration ban and the discrimination against minorities are pressing realities. Do you feel at home and safe in New York?
Imagine a world without borders, 2017
I&S: Since we moved to Brooklyn we felt less stressed on a daily basis. Finally we had freedom of speech, there have been more opportunities in our career, we met a lot of local artists who have become close friends, all these helped us feel like home, although there were some challenges at the beginning of our new chapter – we used to share rooms for a while, we didn’t have a studio, we used to work in the hallways or on the rooftop of the loft we were sharing with our friends, but what we have accomplished here we couldn’t have accomplished anywhere else.
Another reason for us to move to the US was to be able to travel more easily to do what we do because it is very hard to get visas with an Iranian passport when you’re living in Iran. It took us a year to get temporary passport (1 year passport) and finally we could travel and we didn’t have any problem coming back even though we didn’t have green card at the time. Now everything has changed here for immigrants, but we still feel at home in New York because this is our only home, we can’t go back to our home country.
Justice, Houston, Texas
R: Do you believe art can contribute to change in society and should artists have such purposes?
I&S: Yes, art can definitely contribute to change in society, especially public art because it has more and diverse views. We try to give the audience the opportunity to imagine a better world. The impact a piece has on the course of someone’s day may be small, but it’s still an impact. We believe the role of the artist is to advocate for the freedom and the hope of the general public and raise awareness about the issues happening in their time.
R: One of the issues you have been very vocal about is the migration crisis and the war in Syria. Can you share a few thoughts on your recent works on the topic and your views on how this situation has been and is currently handled at an international level?
I&S: The refugees leave their home because of the war, they are trying to escape the danger, they lose their relatives, they migrate to have a better life and not to be in danger, but if they are lucky to survive the journey they still have to face so much struggle in those camps or behind the barbed wire fence and wait while hoping to have a better day again.
We have been making works about this issue to show that Syria has become the greatest crisis of our time. Refugees will always carry the ballast of war with them. They need the most support from all the nations.
R: You have several ad takeovers and street interventions regarding gun violence. You and some of your friends were also victims of gun violence. What do you believe is most worrying about this – the public’s access to guns, the fact that even children are used to having guns (as toys) etc.? You once said that education and art can help break the cycle of violence. How do you see things change for the better?
Ad takeover, Los Angeles, California
I&S: The gun control laws are so fucked up as it’s culturally too in the US. There is so much gun violence and gun accidents and it’s because of the wrong beliefs of people who think they would be safe owning a gun to protect themselves.
The gun issue is a big error in the United States and it’s so frustrating that it has become normal to people. There is a very long way to see things change, but art and education can help break the wrong cultural beliefs and eventually the wrong laws. We began to create anti-gun pieces to say that nobody needs a gun to live in this world, through our art we imagine a world with no guns, no violence and no war.
No Gun Shops
I&S: The book pretty much covers all of our work from the beginning till 2016. Half of the book shows 6 years of our career in Iran and the other half shows 4 years of our work in New York and internationally.
In 2009 Oscar van Gelderen, the publisher of our book, contacted us about collecting our work. Since then we’ve become close friends, he has helped us in our career in so many ways – he organized a solo show for us in Amsterdam, which we couldn’t attend at the time, we were always friends through the internet, and in 2012 when we moved to NY, he came here to help us with our show and it was when we finally met. He always told us that he wanted to publish our book, we waited until we had enough work to make a book, so we decided to work on Let Her Be Free in 2015.
R: Any upcoming projects/exhibitions?
I&S: It’s going to be a busy year, we are looking forward to some group museum shows that we will be part of, and we are also excited about our next solo show in November at Thinkspace Gallery.
R: Finally, how do you hope the future will be like?
I&S: We hope that the world stops going backwards in the near future.
Images and videos © ICY and SOT.