Artist and activist
Woman of Distinction 2017
Biography of Shahrzad Arshadi
Shahrzad Arshadi, a Montréal-based multidisciplinary artist and human rights activist, came to Canada as a political refugee on December 24, 1983. In her artistic career Shahrzad has ventured into different fields of photography, documentary film, creative writing, sound creation and performance, enabling her focus on issues of memory, culture and human rights. Shahrzad is a core member of the Centre for Oral History & Digital Storytelling (COHDS) at Concordia University. She is the founder and artistic director of Z Gallery and One of the founding member of Ziba Kazemi Foundation. She is also the Winner of the 19th International Galawej Cultural Festival/Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan November 2015 for her documentary film “Dancing For Change” and the Winner of the 2010-2011 Montréal Life Stories Artist-in-Residence program. She one also part of Berkshire Artists-in-Residency at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women in Toronto, Ontario in 2014. We have Shahrzad Arshadi to thank for the efforts in Canada and Iran to honour the memory and work of activist and photographer Zahra Kazemi. Ms. Kazemi, whose story is, sadly, familiar to us, was held in Iran’s Evin prison, one of the most murderous prisons in the world, in 2003. She died due to the inhumane treatment she endured while in prison.
Shahrzad Arshadi never even met Ms. Kazemi. A photographer of Iranian descent living in Montréal, multidisciplinary artist, daughter of a political prisoner, and feminist activist, Shahrzad almost died several times herself, during her involvement in different causes. There are some people who deserve to be publicly acclaimed for their profoundly humanitarian work, and Shahrzad is one of these individuals.
Shahrzad Arshadi’s involvement in Ms. Kazemi’s case began in 2003 when a La Presse journalist contacted her friend Shahrzad for assistance with translation in the Kazemi story.
The La Presse journalist wanted to find out what was happening with Ms. Kazemi after being contacted by Kazemi’s son Stephan, who was living in Canada and spoke little of his mother tongue. At this point, Shahrzad stepped in.
Seeking to check on Zahra Kazemi’s state of health, the journalist contacted Zahra Kazemi’s mother, who was then living in Iran and only spoke Persian. Shahrzad, served as interpreter and had to announce to the journalist and Ms. Kazemi’s son, the horrific news that Zahra Kazemi was brain dead and had died on July 10, 2003, several days later.
How do you tell a young man in his 20s that his mother was murdered by an Islamist government that she had fled years earlier? Shahrzad Arshadi conveyed the news with all the gentleness of which she was capable.
She could have carried on with her very busy life as a mother, artist, and business woman. But she chose otherwise. As a human rights activist, she volunteered her time and worked tirelessly for the next 11 years so that the cause of Ms. Kazemi and her son would not be forgotten, to bring them justice and human dignity by forcing the Canadian government to exert pressure on the Iranian authorities.
The struggle was arduous. Despite immense effort, Shahrzad and Stephan were never able to repatriate Zahra Kazemi’s body to Canada. But, due to their efforts, the Iranian government has been internationally condemned for human rights violations of political prisoners, sadly symbolized by Zahra Kazemi.
By drawing on her time, resources, and savings and by addressing the media and government departments, putting her art in service to the cause, and through her humanism, Shahrzad Arshadi brought love and hope to an otherwise tragic story. The distinction bestowed on her today is more than richly deserved.