She grew up during Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Today artist Marjane Satrapi feels conflicted, her memoirs are « more accurate than ever ».

Written by Lea Dolan, CNN

Iranian-French artist Marjane Satrapi was 10 years old when wearing the veil became compulsory in the non-religious French-speaking school she attended in Tehran. Previously, boys and girls learned together, but she was soon separated from her male friends in the name of a cultural revolution initiated by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Women’s rights were curtailed almost instantly after 1979: overnight they lost the right to seek divorce and the ability to retain custody of a child. A public dress code was introduced making the veil compulsory, while the marriage age for girls was dropped from 18 to 9. Confused, frustrated, and yet mischievous like children, Satrapi remembers her and her classmates taking off their veils and tying them together to make a skipping rope during recess. It is in this scene that « Persepolis » (2000) opens – Satrapi’s graphic novel memoir tracing the historical settlement of the Islamic Republic through the complex prism of childhood.

The work won the Coup de Coeur d’Angoulême prize, France’s national comic strip prize, in 2001 and became a feature film winner of the Cannes Jury Prize in 2007. This week, the first 44 pages of the Satrapi’s original manuscript will be auctioned — in 44 separate sales — at Sotheby’s in London.

The first 44 pages of the founding work will be available for purchase. Credit: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Some 450 landmark works from South Asia, Islam and the Middle East go under the hammer this week as part of Sotheby’s ‘Middle East Week’, with ‘Persepolis’ going on sale October 25 . The round of auctions comes at a time when the eyes of the world are on Iran, as the country enters its sixth week of protests and unrest following the death of 22-year-old Masha Amini. after officials in Tehran took her to a « re-education center » for not wearing her hijab properly.

If Satrapi could have foreseen the circumstances, she « never would have auctioned it off now, » she told CNN in a phone interview before the event. « Otherwise I would be a very cynical person. (Preparing for this) sale has been going on for over six months. »

The auction house values ​​each page of ‘Persepolis’ at between £4,000 and £6,000, or around $4,500 to $6,700. Satrapi plans to use the proceeds to fund a new, yet undefined film project (« it changes every day, » she explained). She thinks selling the manuscript – which has been in her closet for 20 years – will be cathartic. « It was like a monster in my closet, » she said. « It had to go. »

On closer inspection, buyers can see reworked designs and modified panels in the manuscript.

On closer inspection, buyers can see reworked designs and modified panels in the manuscript. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Yet despite the graphic novel being over two decades old, it’s still too relevant. Written from the perspective of Satrapi’s child Marji, « Persepolis » grapples with coming of age under a dictatorship. From participating in protests against religious extremism and secret Prohibition parties to mourning the death of his uncle Anoosh, who is executed for ‘espionage’, the personal gets political as Marji’s formative years intertwine to the Islamic revolution.

On the ground in Iran today, the average age of protesters arrested for protesting is just 15. Many of them as young as 16 were also reportedly killed by Iranian security forces. For Satrapi, « Persepolis » was a kind of « testimony » both of what happened during the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty, the Iranian monarchs who had reigned for more than half a century, but also of the beauty and humanity of his country in the years before. « When I arrived in France, people had a (misinformed) idea of ​​what Iran was, » she said. « (They thought) Iran was a country that had existed since 1979, but that’s not true. It’s a country with a 4,000-year history. It wasn’t born yesterday, but the people forgot about it. So (« Persepolis ») was really my answer to that. But I was sure it would be obsolete after a few years.

For Satrapi, the parallels between his life in Iran more than 40 years ago and the turbulent events unfolding today are bittersweet. « It’s a mixture of joy and sadness. Sadness because, again, we have to lose our children. And joy because the culture has changed, » she told CNN. « It’s the first feminist movement I know of in the world where women bring men (to protest) with them. They’re behind these girls, they’re all united. It’s really a human rights movement It has become a global movement of youth against archaism, of democracy against dictatorship. »

Top image: Marjane Satrapi at the 15th Zurich Film Festival in 2019.

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