It’s not often you see Persian text superimposed on a map of San Francisco.
That’s happened not once, but three times since last week to show support for the ongoing protests in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman. Mahsa Amini died in custody after the country’s morality police arrested her for not wearing her hijab tightly enough, setting off nearly three weeks of protests around the world.
With the help of the fitness-tracking app Strava, San Francisco cyclist Jakub Kuba Mosur rode a carefully-planned route in the shape of Amini’s name last month through the Richmond and Sunset districts. His post on Instagram racked up more than 90,000 likes, with comments expressing gratitude and demand for more rides. The strong response led him to draw "azadi"—meaning freedom in Persian—over downtown, stretching up to Russian Hill and eastward by the Panhandle, over the weekend.
In turn, those rides sparked a conversation, including from people in Iran who managed to get past the government’s internet blockages, who alerted Mosur to the “warzone”-like situation of students at the elite Sharif University in Tehran, Iran’s capital, where the students have been reportedly trapped and shot at by authorities.
So on Monday, Mosur cycled the shape of the university’s name across the west side of San Francisco. Iranians in the country and across the diaspora have urged people to raise awareness primarily on social media, particularly out of frustration with coverage from national news outlets.
“The demand is high and the information still seems not to be getting out there,” Mosur said. “This great, advanced civilization that has had such a big impact on the rest of the world is going through this situation right now. I hope more news organizations get interested and magnify the position that’s out there.”
Mosur began drawing political statements in the form of bike rides during the pandemic, when work dried up for him and his wife—both freelance photographers—within weeks. He’s protested against abortion restrictions, ridden in support of public transit and advocated for banning guns.
Greek and Persian history made a big impression on him ever since his family lived at a refugee camp in Athens after fleeing Poland in the 1980s. Mosur went on to make several friends in the Bay Area who are Middle Eastern and Iranian.
Mosur is contemplating his next GPS art piece for Iran, possibly around the singer Shervin Hajipour who wrote what’s become the protest anthem using tweets from Iranians and was later arrested.
“I’m just a guy on a bike,” Mosur said. “I was hoping getting out there would spread the message these students are trying to spread internationally.”
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