Painting the martyrs’ pictures until the early hours of the morning
A Selection from the Oral Recollections of the Revolutionary Artist, Alī-Rezā Khāleqī - 3
November 13th, 2016
The BBC’s Mischief
After the triumph of the revolution and the establishment of revolutionary Islamic institutions, Alī-Rezā Khāleqī rushed to help the fledgling Islamic revolution, taking charge of the artistic and promotional works of the Islamic Revolution Committee, the Islamic Republic Party, and of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. Painting pictures and portraits of the martyrs of the imposed war and those who fell in the battles and terror campaigns of the reactionaries were among his main activities – tasks which had turned into a personal concern; he considers this work as a duty toward the revolution and the martyrs. On many nights Alī-Rezā Khāleqī was engaged in painting the martyrs’ pictures until the early hours of the morning.
Mr. Alī-Rezā Khāleqī: “The more time passed, the more the political discussions and conflicts were intensified and I became busier in my calligraphy works in the party. Finally, the party suggested that I officially work for them. Since I was married, I accepted that offer. The party office hadn’t had a good publicity and public relations department since it had started. There was a room in which Mr. Sa،īd-Manesh reproduced the announcements with a stencil machine. The posters, which were usually sent from Tehran, were also distributed from there. Javād Sanāī, who worked in the education office, sometimes helped the party with its calligraphic needs. I started to work in the same room. In the beginning, I made fabric panels and templates. But due to my skills in painting, I started painting, too, and painted a couple of large pictures. After painting the pictures of one or two of the revolutionary characters, the party ordered more paintings for different occasions. The first one was for the funeral of Āyatollāh Tāleqānī, the next for the anniversary of Martyr Motahharī’s death, and later on for Martyr Mofatteh’s. The projects were commissioned on the basis of the needs of the various events and occasions that arose. I had also painted the pictures of Imām Khomeinī, Āyatollāh Montazerī, and Āyatollāh Beheshtī.
Around the end of 1980 my work place was transferred to the Revolutionary Guards center, in the fourth district of Khorāsān, in front of the Malek-Ābād Garden. I worked in a small room situated in the yard, and I didn’t go home till noon. Most of the time, I was there working on promotional activity. Some months later, we transferred our workplace to a building in Adabīāt T-junction, which was the cultural department of the Revolutionary Guards. However, since the building was too small, we moved to another building next to the Mellī Garden and that building became the cultural department of the Guard. I designed posters painted and did calligraphy. However, as the war began, I did many other things such as silk-screening on headbands, and flag-writing for the garrisons. We made large fabric panels of the martyrs’ pictures, and wrote the Imām’s messages for the war on the walls all over the city. Gradually, I became too busy. Half of my day was spent on party work and the rest of the day I was busy doing work for the Revolutionary Guards Corps. The party had promotional teams in every election, and I would produce the promotional banners for Mashhad and the surrounding towns. Besides doing all this, we had to confront all the different small cadres. Some nights we had to clean up several slogans written on the walls by reactionary elements or other cadres and then write our slogans instead. Those cadres wrote slogans against members of the Revolutionary Guards or against Āyatollāh Beheshtī in the city center, especially on Dāneshgāh Street or thereabouts. The slogans claimed that these people were reactionaries, or that they were capitalists who had many houses, much wealth, and so on. This kind of baseless nonsense was mentioned by the BBC Persian Service every night, and those cadres would spread their lies. They would also add some other embellishments of their own to those of the BBC’s, writing them on the walls. They mostly focused on seven or eight revolutionary leaders, the first of which was Āyatollāh Beheshtī; the next two were Mr. Khāmeneī, and Mr. Rafsanjānī. After them, Āyatollāh “Mahdavī-e Kanī, Bā-Honar and Rajāī were targeted. We couldn’t ignore those words. If we did, they would have spread those words all over the city. So, as the words were written on the walls we would go and erase them. I remember the time when the conflicts with those groups and with Banī-Sadr had reached their peak. We were out most of the nights during that week. Sometimes the walls were so covered with graffiti that we had to stay until morning cleaning it up. We would make our morning namāz (obligatory ritual prayer) in the party office, and then would go home to sleep. We would usually write as many slogans as we cleaned up; but with a different calligraphy style. They mostly wrote in Naskh, and we wrote in Nast،alīq. They mostly used dark colors, but we wrote with lighter colors and used some drawings as well. I often drew the simple lines of the letters, and the other guys painted them, or colored the background hastily in the dark. Later, however, wall-writing became dangerous. Some of us would therefore watch in the alley so that the reactionary elements would not suddenly attack us.
Some of the families of the martyrs liked to see the single image of their martyr on his coffin besides the martyrs’ group posters made by the Guard. On the other hand, the posters we made in the Revolutionary Guard Corps were in small formats; so, they were not very impressive. Paintings could show the martyrs’ dignity more properly. We didn’t have enough facilities at that time. We had to paint the pictures by hand. Since we had a lot of work to do in the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Khorāsān, I was only to paint the images of the important political characters and commanders. Moreover, we had a lot of martyrs, and I didn’t have time to paint the images of all of them. So, I only painted those of the commanders of the army, the battalions, and the division commanders, and those who had important positions in the war. People also expected us to pay more attention to these martyrs; but sometimes some other martyrs’ families came to us, insisting that they wanted the pictures of their martyrs; especially the rural families who didn’t have enough facilities. In those cases, we would add their name to our list and paint their martyrs’ pictures. But, generally, we would try to paint the pictures of the commanders so that they could be used in front of the crowds in their funerals. So, whenever a funeral was to be held, they would give me a photograph and information about that martyr in advance. They would ask me to paint his picture with the logo of the Guards Corps and the signature of the representative of the Valī-e Faqīh. Sometimes, we even made single posters for some well-known commanders. Of course, the posters weren’t different in color from those of the Basīj martyrs. They were just a bit larger in size. The size of an art work gives a certain dignity and grandeur to it; so, we would usually make the posters and especially the paintings of commanders – as characters who had a greater impact on the people – in larger formats. In the same way, I painted the pictures of martyrs like martyr Kāve, who was famous, of martyr Dehghān, martyr Āmel, martyr “Hammāmī”, who was planning and operations commander, and many of the other martyrs in larger formats. Those paintings were in a realist style. Because the families wanted the paintings to be very close to the martyrs’ actual faces, and exactly similar to their photographs; so, drawing the smallest details of the faces was important to them. They even wanted the lines of their clothes to be painted exactly. All of these details were memories for them. I paid attention to every detail so that the martyrs’ mothers would enjoy looking at the pictures. Besides the significance of being facsimiles, something else was also important for the families; the fact that their son had been martyred in the way of protecting Islam. This was very important. We would always draw a symbol of martyrdom or a verse from the Qoran in the painting. Most of the time, we wrote the revelation, “Think not of those who have been slain in the cause of Allāh as being dead. Nay, they are living, in the presence of their Lord, and are granted gifts from Him”. This revelation stated that the martyrs are alive, and live venerably in a lofty state; and that the faithful are not to consider them as dead. It was the best and most appropriate Qoranic revelation for their families. The third thing that we wrote in the paintings and posters was a statement from Imām Khomeinī; the posters all had a statement from Imām Khomeinī in them. The briefest statement was this: “These dearly beloved martyrs were devoted to Islam”. These words would calm the martyrs’ families and give them succor. I also considered this as my duty. I should have used sentences that would console the martyrs’ families whenever they looked at the paintings in their homes. I thought that the paintings should not disheartened them but rather, give them strength. I usually worked in region four of the Guard Corps until the sunset call to prayer. Upon returning home I would paint the pictures of Basīj martyrs; they were usually personal orders of my comrades in the mosques and the committees. In Mashhad, we had funerals every week, on Mondays and Thursdays. The family of each martyr was informed about it one or two days before, so that they could do the funeral ceremonies: whether they wanted to have panels written, or to hold mourning ceremonies. Those who wanted a painting would come and order it during those two days. Sometimes we didn’t have time in those couple of days. They would come hastily at night saying that “they told us this evening that our martyr will be brought tomorrow. Please paint a picture for us by morning”. Such cases mostly happened at the nights before the funerals; and I couldn’t refuse such requests. I considered it as a religious duty to paint the martyrs’ pictures. The painting should be ready for the funeral in the morning. To make a long story short, at nights, when I got home, I would eat some dinner and start my work. The canvases were not ready-made. I would buy the fabric, and cut it in the size of 120 by 90 centimeters. I used a wooden frame, and spread the canvas on it; it would take me about half an hour to fix the canvas with nails and a hammer. I would usually start painting at eleven or twelve p.m. and sometimes I kept working till the morning call to prayer. To me, paintings of the Basīj martyrs were as important as those of the commanders. Sometimes I spent even more time on them, because I found them to be less known. Sometimes, the comrades of a martyr would come to me and order a painting, saying that his body had not arrived yet, so I should write MIA (Missing In Action) I had a special spiritual feeling at those times. I was to paint the picture of a young man whose body had not arrived yet. I really cried while painting some of the pictures; I would talk to them while painting their pictures; I had the most intense feelings when I painted the picture of my younger brother.”
Entering Imām Reza’s Shrine
After a period of concurrently working in the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Party, Alī-Rezā Khāleqī decided to quit the Islamic Republic Party and continue working in the Guard Corps because Imām Khomeinī had commanded that those who were active in the parties were not permitted to be in military organizations such as the Guard Corps. After leaving the party, Seyyed Hādī Khāmeneī – chair of the cultural department of Āstān-e Qods-e Razavī offered Alī-Rezā Khāleqī to work in the public relations department there. Accepting that offer, he started work in the promotional department. The Shrine seems to have enough capacity for art works. Alī-Rezā Khāleqī, besides painting the images of the martyrs, and working for the Guards Corps started his cultural activities in Āstān-e Qods-e Razavī.
Mr. Alī-Rezā Khāleqī: “The Shrine environment was suitable for promotional work; before the revolution it was the center of the public campaigns, and after the revolution it was a popular center soldiers would frequent. None of the soldiers would go to the railway to leave for the front without first having made a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine. Before setting off, they would always hold religious ceremonies in the courtyard of Imām Rezā’s shrine, and would leave to the warfront, after paying their respect to Imām Rezā. During the imposed war with Iraq, the same atmosphere of pre-revolution campaigns and martyrdoms could be seen in the country again. Sometimes, some guys would come from the mosques, chanting in the courtyard. A Maddāh would recite some poems and the soldiers were finally seen off. Imam Rezā’s shrine was close to Imām Rezā Avenue; the shrine had a large courtyard. The funerals and demonstrations would usually end in that courtyard, and it was a center for all gatherings and lectures. When I found out about the good gathering there I decided to make large canvas paintings and hang them up in that courtyard. We would order a big piece of canvas to be made by sewing smaller pieces together. Each piece was usually one or sometimes two meters. Those small pieces were sown together, making twelve-meter fabrics on which it was very difficult to paint. I would usually look for some empty space in large warehouses, and I would project the picture on the canvas and would draw the general scheme of the photograph. Then, I would unfold the fabric on the floor. When there was enough space I could unfold the whole of it; otherwise I would paint piece by piece. Those paintings were to be seen from far, so I wouldn’t pay attention to the intricacies. I used bold intense colors so that the work would be seen nicely from a distance. I didn’t really manipulate them much in order to keep the similarities. I would usually work with colors in the background which didn’t interfere with the main subject. On some occasions, the paintings were hung at the four entrances of the Shrine; especially in the week of war, or the ten-day Fajr Festival. We used very large paintings on Imām Rezā Avenue, and Tabarsī Avenue so that the people entering the shrine would see them. Sometimes, we wrote the date and the time of the ceremonies at the bottom of the paintings. For example, at the bottom of the painting of the martyrs of 7th of Tīr square, I wrote ‘the commemoration of 7th of Tīr martyrs’. Most of the paintings, however, were hung inside Imām Rezā’s Courtyard, because it was the center of public gatherings. For the first anniversary of martyr Beheshtī, I painted his picture on a fabric panel. While the coffin was carried on people’s hands, the martyr’s picture was fixed on one side of the coffin. Beneath the Picture of Martyr Beheshtī, I had written the statement of Imām Khomeinī: “Martyr Beheshtī lived honorably and died honorably, and was a thorn in the eyes of the enemies of Islam “.
Migration from/to Tehran
The terrors by the reactionary forces who had declared an armed struggle against the Islamic Republic lead to the martyrdom of Alī-Rezā Khāleqī’s friends, one after the other. As the conflicts and the assassinations carried out by the forces of reaction increased, he would everyday expect to hear news of another one of his friends’ martyrdom! Each time, after hearing the news of a friend’s martyrdom, he would paint his image. One of those people is martyr Hāshemī-Nezhād; Alī-Rezā Khāleqī painted his visage with love. Alī-Rezā Khāleqī who has been well-known as a revolutionary artist in the Revolutionary Guards became a target of assassination for the anti-revolutionary forces in their campaign of terror; but the assassins’ attempt on him and his family was unsuccessful.
The decade of the 1980’s, with all of its ups and downs, are passing by. Alī-Rezā Khāleqī is thinking of continuing his education in his favorite field; being accepted in the faculty of fine arts in Tehran University, and settling in Tehran opens up a new vista in artworks for him. To get familiar with revolutionary artists, a considerable number of which are in Tehran, is an opportunity appreciated by Alī-Rezā Khāleqī who is now pursuing his favorite career path academically. He is now in a position to compare his work with the outstanding works being done in the capital, and has greater opportunities for learning.
Mr. Alī-Rezā Khāleqī: “Despite all the difficulties, I sat the Art Entrance Exam and I was accepted in the Painting section in the Faculty of Fine Arts of Tehran University. I remember the first semester was in winter. Tehran University didn’t have any rooms available at the time. So I stayed in the university mosque during the first year. We had a professor named Hamīdī that I can say was one of the best masters in Iran. In one session, he told us we were free to paint whatever we liked. I drew a picture of a martyr inspired by the paintings of Jesus Christ who was always drawn near-naked. I was attempting to show the martyr’s detachment from worldly matters. The martyr was lying down on the grass, without any clothes. His clothes were beside him, folded up and tidy. Of course, his body could not be fully seen. He was in beams of light. Only a little bit of his shoulders and some part of his legs were seen. Professor Hamīdī gave an A score to that work, which was the highest score in the class. He applauded the theme, and took the painting with him. In Tehran, I had no work other than studying my lessons. For a couple of times, I suggested to the person in charge of the Jehād of Tehran University that I could join them and assist there, but they didn’t accept it. To be honest, many of them didn’t want the guys from other towns among them. They mostly worked with those they previously knew, most of which were from Tehran. Some of them were Chalīpā Nāser Palangī , Sādeqī , Gūdarzī , Zarghām , and Fadavī , to name but a few. They were all revolutionary students who had entered university before the revolution and had just finished their studies; some of them were even teaching as university teachers. Nāser Palangī held some sketching classes for us during one or two semesters. We became friends in those classes. He had a mystical manner, and his designs also had a certain style. They had a certain mystical aura about them, with stretching lines, in the Persian miniature style. Up to that time, nobody had sketched in that way, especially with a spiritual perspective. I remember when he returned from Mecca, he drew some sketches in that style, showing the Mecca pilgrims, and exhibited his drawings at the university. Later, he used that style in the front lines of the war, drawing on the walls of the Khorram-Shahr mosque. It became very famous. To me, his sketches were the best of the era. He himself was also more advanced than the others spiritually. He was more devoted to the Basīj, and worked a lot for the war. He was the pinnacle of painting and graphics in Tehran. So, my graphic work was inspired by him, and that was natural; their works were better than ours. For example, many of the ideas in my war-related posters were inspired by the drawings in The Message of the Revolution magazine, most of which were done by Gūdarzī and Chalīpā. They had designed the front and back cover of the magazine. During the summers and the New Year holidays when the university was closed I came back to Mashhad and continued my promotional work in the Holy Shrine. I also had some cooperation with the Guards. After three years, I took my wife and kids to Tehran; I rented a house with the university grant, and we settled in Tehran. After a year, however, due to the illness of my mother and the bombings in Tehran, my family returned to Mashhad, and I continued my studies in Tehran, until 1989. Before coming to Tehran, I had bought a car; it was a Peykān. During my student days I would drive that car back and forth between Tehran and Mashhad. In June 1989, when I was coming back to Mashhad, a bus stopped for breakfast in front of a café, near Neyshāpūr. It was about seven or eight in the morning. As we were eating our breakfast, the radio was broadcasting Qoranic recitations. Well, it was natural. They had already declared that Imām Khomeinī was in ill health. So people were all praying and there were Qoranic recitations on radio. Suddenly, the Qoranic recitation was interrupted by the newsman’s voice announcing that had left the earthly plane for the Kingdom of Heaven. I was feeling strange. I regretted that I had left Tehran. Anyway, I returned to Mashhad with sadness. During the first few days in Āstān-e Qods, I just tried to finish the calligraphy works; but later on, I painted a lot of pictures for the fortieth day of the Imām’s death, and also the anniversary. I painted the scene of the Imām’s body in a glass coffin, and a lot of people mourning around it. On another canvas I painted that coffin being carried on people’s hands. A few years after the death of the Imām, I would still paint his images in different styles for the anniversaries; especially in order to be put in the courtyard of his shrine. Every year, I had a new idea for my painting. I remember one of the paintings showed a cracked photo frame of the Imām being carried on people’s hands, like a coffin. It was a beautiful scene. The photo frame and people’s hands holding it, and the Imām’s face, smiling. The photographer had taken a very nice picture of the scene. From then on, every year, I would start painting about one month before the anniversary, and would make thirty or forty fabric panels. When they were finished, we would suddenly fill the entire city with the paintings, especially around the Imām’s shrine. One could see paintings of the Imām everywhere.”
. It mainly refers to the MKO or the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization or the Rajavī Cult who opposed the Islamic republic at the time with arms and by means of terror campaigns.
. The person in charge of the guardianship/ providence of the jurist, who is the supreme leader of the Islamic Shia country.
. “The Organization for Mobilization of the Oppressed” is a paramilitary volunteer militia established in 1979 by order of the Islamic Revolution’s leader Ayatollah Khomeini
.و لا تحسبن الذین قتلوا فی سبیل الله امواتا بل احیاء عند ربهم یرزقون (آل عمران، 196)
. Management organization of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza
. A person who reads some poems in the mourning ceremonies or birthday rituals of Shia Imams.
.The ten days from 12 to 22 of Bahman (Jan 30-Feb 11) which was the period between Imam Khomeini’s return to Iran and the victory of the Islamic revolution.
. A city in Iran, situated in the south of the country; it was for a short while captured by Iraq, during the imposed war.