27 October 2022

Roshi Rouzbehani on saving the world with art, empowering women, and developing her own visual language

Iranian illustrator Roshi Rouzbehani celebrates her people's fight against a patriarchal dictatorship via bold digital illustrations using her distinct visual language.


Iran is currently going through social upheaval. Following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after being detained by Iran's morality police, the country has responded with protests where women burn their hijabs and cut their hair, as well as country-wide joint strike action. These protests have led to expressions of solidarity worldwide as people march in support of Iranian women demanding an end to the curtailing of their human rights.


For illustrator Roshi Rouzebhani, born and raised in Tehran before immigrating to the UK in 2011, the events have provoked many mixed feelings. "As an Iranian woman, I know the everyday struggle you face living under a patriarchal dictatorship," she tells Creative Boom.

"I also know the courage that is needed to be in the streets with no hijab and fighting for your rights while the regime may arrest or even kill you. I am in awe of the bravery and strength of my people and am proud of them. At the same time, I'm angry and sad and scared but hopeful!"


To shout for freedom with her art, Roshi has been creating illustrations that pay tribute to the protesters. She was especially motivated to add her voice to the movement following the internet shutdown in Iran. "I want to be the voice of the brave women of Iran and to echo what they are chanting in the streets, which is 'Zan, Zendegi, Azadi', meaning 'Women, Life, Freedom,'" she explains.


"In my illustrations, I try to celebrate my people's fight and show my solidarity. I try to use the power of illustration to convey their messages directly so that everyone can understand without the need for translation.


"I'm glad that so far – besides the illustrations I created for my social media or posters to be used in protests around the world – I had the chance to collaborate with The Guardian Weekly, New Yorker and Die Zeit to raise the voice of Iranian women in seeking freedom.

As she suggests, Roshi's ability to create illustrations that punch through and connect without the need for language has been honed via her work as an editorial illustrator. Having created artwork for clients such as BBC 100 Women and The Washington Post, to name a few, she has crafted a unique and striking visual approach to get her message across.


This style hasn't just been sharpened thanks to her illustration commissions, though. Having studied IT and moved to the UK with her husband in 2011, Roshi faced cultural and language barriers in her day-to-day life. "I decided to develop my own visual language, a language that everyone can understand, to reflect my inner state of how I see the world as a female Iranian immigrant," she reveals.


"Since then, I have constantly been developing my visual language, and right now, I use digital illustration to express my ideas. I am passionate about gender equality, and women's empowerment is at the centre of my work. I also love to work on social or mental health issues."

Long-time readers of Creative Boom will remember that this work includes her self-published book, 50 Inspiring Iranian Women. As its name suggests, this book consists of portrait illustrations and mini-biographies of 50 Iranian women from all walks of life that "highlight their achievements, despite all the constraints and discrimination they faced."


And despite her mixed feelings about the current state of Iran, Roshi remains optimistic that art and her illustrations have an important part to play in the discussion. In her opinion, art can be a positive, life-changing force. "I believe art has the power to change people to save the world! I think art has the power to influence people's perspectives and beliefs to impact their acts."


She adds: "Art has this unique ability to go beyond nation-states. Artists can convey powerful messages in direct and immediate ways, so change can happen every day, artwork by artwork!"