Sunday, February 28, 2016

Marjane Satrapi — By Lynn Zhang

Marjane Satrapi is a French-Iranian artist and graphic novelist. Born in 1969 to a liberal Iranian family of an engineer father and a designer mother, Satrapi's childhood coincided with the most tumultuous period of contemporary Iranian history. In 1979, popular uprising overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty. Yet, contrary to the hope of Iranian opinion leaders, the regime that ensued was not a democracy, but an Islamic Republic under the authority of the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The civic life in Iran took a drastic turn after the 1979 revolution, with the installation of strict Islamic laws, political persecution, and restriction of women's participation in the public sphere. Growing up in this historical period and bearing the memory of the execution of family members including her beloved uncle, Satrapi developed a sharp political eye and a daring personality that have translated into her graphic novels. 
Persepolis 2 page 101
Following the revolution, Satrapi's parents decided to send her to Austria to continue secondary education. Her adolescence in Austria was imbued with isolation, hardship, discrimination, and questions regarding her identity. Satrapi was frank in the representation of her troubled adolescence, disclosing her history of depression and drug usage in the graphic novel Persepolis. Following a serious illness ensuing a failed relationship and two months of living in the street, Satrapi returned to Iran, where she attended the Islamic Azad University, and eventually earning a master of visual communication. After a short-lived marriage at the age of 21 and the disillusionment with the country's current regime, Satrapi moved to Strasbourg, France, to pursue a career in art and writing.

Persepolis 2 page 102

Persepolis 2 page 104

I was drawn to Satrapi's graphic novels the first time I encountered Persepolis. Her style is simple, earnest, and fluid. With a keen interest in Iran and having read a number of works on the Iranian contemporary history, I find Satrapi's graphic novels concrete, complex and relatable. In her books titled "Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood","Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return", "Embroideries", and "Chicken with Plums", Satrapi delineated an Iranian world shrouded in darkness but shimmering with the lights of dauntless, spirited, charismatic individuals. Persepolis and Persepolis 2 were a faithful representation of Satrapi's life history during a period of unprecedented religious and political tension in Iran. Embroideries, on the other hand, depicts an afternoon tea session in Satrapi's house where the women engaged in an extensive discussion on love, sex, marriage, and life as leftist females in an Islamic regime. Chicken with Plums recounts the final eight day of her uncle's life. 

Using a "stripped-down visual style" influenced by German Expressionism, Satrapi desensitized her readers to the cruelty of reality, and conveyed her message in a humorous, light touch (Luebering). The characters in her books are mostly based on real Iranian individuals, for whom she employs a minimalistic description that nonetheless renders them unforgettable. In addition, having studied in France and visited the museum of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, I also find resemblance between Satrapi's style and that of Toulouse-Lautrec's poster images—namely, the representation of female characters using elegant, fluid lines and the exaggeration of facial expressions. Satrapi's mentor and teacher, French comics artist David Beauchard, along with her immersion in the French artistic world, may have casted a strong influence over her style. 


In particular, I find Satrapi's representation of Iranian females of great cultural importance. In the Islamic regime of Iran, women have been eclipsed from the more visible parts of the society and have been rendered less powerful politically. Yet, Satrapi depicts the women of her family and her acquaintance to be of great strength and idiosyncratic character. Her visual story-telling conveys a strong message to the readers in the world outside of Iran that despite regime change and the conservative social culture, Iranian women are not deprived of individuality or do they surrender their rights to enjoy a fulfilling life. Her touch of humor is present throughout her works, adding highlights to the storyline and helping readers resonate deeply with the characters embedded in a drastically different culture. 

I have always believed in the political and communicational power of art, which is manifested in Satrapi's work. This is the reason why I have chosen to present this French-Iranian artist, whose graphic novels reveal the humanness of a politically troubled society, and give the Iranian individuals a resounding voice in the international community.

Luebering, J.E. "Marjane Satrapi | Iranian Artist and Writer." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica

  • Satrapi, M. (2004). Persepolis 2: The story of a return. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Satrapi, M. (2005). Embroideries: The story of a return. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Satrapi, M., & Satrapi, M. (2007). The complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon Books.
Stacey Weber-Fève (2011) Framing the “Minor” in Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's Persepolis , Contemporary French and Francophone Studies, 15:3, 321-328, DOI: 10.1080/17409292.2011.577617 

  • Szép, E. (2014). Graphic narratives of women in war: Identity construction in the works of zeina abirached, miriam katin, and marjane satrapi. International Studies. Interdisciplinary Political and Cultural Journal, 16(1), 21-33. doi:10.2478/ipcj-2014-0002

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