artists literature women in the arts

Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French graphic novelist, illustrator, film director, and children’s book author. She is best known for her graphic novel Persepolis, which provide an insight into life in Iran during the Iranian Revolution of the early 80’s.

Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran and grew up in Tehran. Her parents was an engineer and her mother a clothing designer. They were both secular, politically active, and supported Marxist causes against the monarchy of the last Shah. Satrapi was ten when the Iranian Revolution began in 1979, her parents joined in the protests that helped to depose him, but Muslim fundamentalists took power and made things far worse for them. Satrapi’s mother was pressured into wearing Islamic clothing to avoid attracting the attention of the religious police and many of Satrapi’s family friends were persecuted, arrested, and even murdered including her Uncle Anoosh. Anoosh had been a political prisoner, forced to live in exile for a brief period of time. Satrapi loved and admired her Uncle, and he treated her as his own daughter. When he was arrested again and executed, he was allowed one visitor and he requested her. Anoosh was buried in an unmarked grave in the prison.

Satrapi had been studying at the Lycée Français until she began openly questioning the propaganda she was being taught, this, coupled with the fact that she was getting in trouble for breaking modesty codes and buying music banned by the regime lead to her parents sending her to the Lycée Français de Vienne in Austria. Satrapi began her time in Vienna living with a friend of her parents, but after a while they decided they did not want her to live with them any longer and Satrapi was sent to live in a convent. After the nuns used ethnic slurs while yelling at her, she left and lived with a series of friends. She became friends with punks and anarchists and dabbled in the use of drugs before eventually, she ended up homeless in wintertime and woke up in a hospital with pneumonia.

Satrapi returned to Tehran at the age of 18, where she studied visual communication at Islamic Azad University. She struggled to adjust to living under the surveillance of the religious police. She would attend illegal parties wearing make up and western clothes which the religious police would occasionally raid and break up. After gaining her Masters in Visual Communication she moved to France and continued to study art in Strasbourg, then Paris. Through friends, Satrapi was introduced to graphic novelists, including Art Spiegelman whose graphic novel Maus told the story of the Holocaust through the lives of a few Jewish survivors. Satrapi was inspired to tell her own story, and created a book of black-and-white comic strips about living in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution Tehran from ages six to 14. The book was entitled Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Satrapi hoped that through presenting the lives of ordinary Iranians during that time, she would be able to counter the negative images people has of her native country. Only through experiencing life in that country, could they learn to understand life there. She also hoped to use the book to educate young Iranians in the history of their country in the early 1980’s.

Persepolis was published in France in two volumes in 2000 and 2001, in 2003 they were combined as Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and translated into English. The graphic novels won numerous awards including the Angouleme International Comics Festival’s Coup de Coeur award and the Prix du Lion from a comics association in Belgium. That same year, the United States went to war with Iraq and because of this, Satrapi was detained and interrogated when entering the United States to promote her books. She publicly criticised the war and U.S. President George W. Bush, comparing him to the religious fundamentalists in power in Iran. She also questioned whether Bush was really opposed to the Iranian government because he wanted American access to Iran’s oil, not because of its reported attempts to build nuclear weapons.

In 2004, a sequel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return, was published in the United States. The graphic novel dealt with Satrapi’s experience returning to Iran at 18, it details how she struggled against the fundamentalist regime and the effect of the suffering the war in Iraq had caused. She writes about the small ways she and her college friends rebelled, attending illegal parties, dating and wearing make up and the fact that many Iranians were forced to live double lives to survive.

In 2004, her novel, Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes) was published and won the Angoulême Album of the Year award. This was followed in 2005 by Embroideries, a graphic memoir which details a conversation she had in Tehran with her mother, aunt, and grandmother and their friends about men, love, and sex. The novel clashed with the idea that Iran is a sexually repressed society, and showed that women speak frankly about sexual matters behind closed doors. It paints a picture of the experiences of women living in Iran. The novel was nominated for a Angoulême Album of the Year award. In addition to her graphic novels, Satrapi has also created the illustrated French children’s books Les Monstres n’aiment pas la lune (2001) and Le Soupir (2004).

In 2007, an animated film version of Satrapi’s graphic novels entitled Persepolis debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was co-written and co-directed by Satrapi. In 2008, Persepolis was nominated for an Academy Award, making Satrapi the first woman to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature award. Persepolis won Best First Film at the César Awards that same year.

Satrapi continues to create animation and film work, in 2014 she directed the English-language dark comedy The Voices, which told the story of a man who, having failed to take his medication, becomes a murderer. She is also unafraid to speak out on issues she feels strongly about, in 2010, when the French government decided to ban Muslim girls from wearing veils in public school, to try to keep the schools strictly secular, Satrapi spoke out in the Guardian, stating that although she is personally opposed to the veil, forbidding girls from wearing a veil was just as repressive as forcing them to wear them.

Sources here, here, here and here.

Leave a Reply