Iranian Brothers’ Street Art Makes Them Political Refugees

Two street artists from Iran are on a tour exhibiting their art. Today they are in Houston at a gallery in the East End. Their choice of art brought them political asylum in the U.S.


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The two brothers go by Icy and Sot. They first became interested in stencil art in 2006 in connection with their skateboarding culture in the northwest Iranian city of Tabriz. That grew into what they do today: stencil art on walls.

Sot: “We mostly paint like two layers, black and white.”

Icy: “And some other colors.”

Sot: “Yeah, and the subject are mostly about society issues, about humor,…”

Icy: “ … peace, love … ”

Sot: “… love, hate, hope, [disappointment], yeah, the things that are happening to us or maybe around us.”

But that kind of art didn’t sit too well with Iranian authorities and they were frequently arrested. They say for every piece of art they would have had to seek the approval of the minister of culture, who rejects any art that he sees as controversial. So they very soon stopped trying.

Ali Salehezadeh, who manages the two artists, says for the Iranian government Icy and Sot’s art symbolizes Western culture and therefore is going against Iran.

“If you look at their art, I mean, yeah, sure it’s talking about things that are going wrong within the country when it’s really about things that are going wrong in the world. It’s not necessarily focused on Iran or anything happening there. And they’re idiots, essentially, where they just automatically assume, OK, if you’re doing this art you’re against us and you’re against this regime and you worship Satan.”

Icy and sot initially came to the United States in August on artist visas and applied for asylum right away. While Sot got it granted, Icy is still waiting for his interview but is positive that he will be admitted as well.

Salehezadeh says the fact that the two brothers were arrested and kept in jail for a week just prior to their scheduled departure, in the end helped them to receive asylum in the U.S.

“They were accused of being spies and who knows what else they were being accused for, but you know that was the worst thing that happened at the time because we thought it was all over, we thought they were never coming here but we were pretty lucky and called some people, they were able to get out of jail, go to court, but basically those documents there helped them get asylum because they were prosecuted right before they left.”

And he says all the press the duo has received since their arrival in the U.S. doesn’t help to get the Iranian government’s approval. But luckily Icy and Sot won’t have to worry about that anymore living in Brooklyn. They say coming to America is a dream come true.

“There’s so many opportunities, there’s so many people, we have met so many people, like artists, that we used to follow them from the Internet and now we are painting together, which is perfect.”

Icy and Sot’s work can be viewed at the Aerosol Warfare gallery on Jefferson Street from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. tonight.




Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is the News 88.7 business reporter and also covers criminal justice, guns and shootings.Florian's stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of...

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