Canada: Re-opened petition to minister to end confiscation of Iranian artwork

7 August 2014

After weeks of battle for artist Sadaf Foroughi as she tried to rescue the centerpiece of her federally subsidised art installation – a traditional Iranian ‘peep box’ known as a ‘shahre farang’ – from being destroyed after it had been intercepted by airport customs, Sadaf Foroughi succeeded in winning the right to claim her cargo. The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, granted a special permit to have the art piece released.

However, Sadaf Foroughi will now have to spend over $3,000 to get her art work out of the warehouse where it’s being stored – an amount which she doesn’t have. So her petition has been re-opened with a new letter to the Canada Minister of the Foreign Affairs.

The Montreal based artist made the shahre farang in her homeland, but when she tried to bring the piece back into Canada, customs held the piece, saying it contravened Canada’s trade sanctions with Iran, and the piece should therefore be destroyed.

Ms. Foroughi had received $12,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts to make the artwork. It is a traditional Iranian peep box, an item that dates back centuries in Iran. They are made of thin tin and are extremely delicate.

» See the petition page with the new letter on:

» The Globe and Mail – 1 August 2014:
Quebec filmmaker wins customs fight over Iran artwork – but at a price

» CBC Radio – 31 July 2014:
A Montreal artist’s agony may soon be over

Sadaf Foroughi’s initial petition to save her art installation from being destroyed due to Canada’s trade sanctions against Iran sounded like this:

“We, the undersigned, urge the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs the honourable John Baird, and the Canadian Border Services Agency to take the necessary steps in order to end the confiscation of Sadaf Foroughi’s artwork, ‘Shahr-e-Farang’, as soon as possible, before it is destroyed by the authorities on July 28.

Ms. Foroughi is clearly the victim of an unfortunate misunderstanding and her creation is being retained in violation of the relevant regulations. Her piece is an independent, personal creation for a cultural purpose, funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. It is without any commercial value, and should be respected as the personal property of the artist.

Continuing this situation is a violation of artists’ cultural rights and liberties. We believe that curtailing the freedom of one artist, means limiting the freedom of all artists around the world.



“A Montreal filmmaker fears that she could lose the centrepiece of a federally subsidized art installation after Canadian customs officers intercepted her material and deemed that it contravened the country’s trade sanctions against Iran.

Sadaf Foroughi, an Iranian-born permanent resident, said she tried to explain to a customs agent at Trudeau International Airport that she is an artist and the object had no commercial use.”

The Globe and Mail – 16 July 2014:
Artist’s work may be destroyed by CBSA due to Iran import ban

“My hopes and dreams are crushed”

The artist Sadaf Foroughi expressed her concerns to the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, in this letter:

“July 23, 2014

Dear Minister Baird:

The world of an artist, regardless of politics and political game playing between governments, is a world of imagination and creativity. Such a world is focused on what can be brought into being rather than what can be demolished.

The world of an artist, as the maverick filmmaker Jafar Panahi has eloquently put it, “is marked by the interplay between reality and imagination.” The artist “uses reality as his inspiration, paints it with the color of his imagination, and creates an artwork that is a projection of his hopes and dreams.”

The sad reality is that, as of this writing, there are just five more days before my hopes and dreams are crushed. My artwork, Shahr-e-Farang, to which I have dedicated two years of my life, has been kept from seeing the light of day by CBSA for the past 24 days and is now at risk of destruction at the Montreal Customs.

In these sad and stressful days, the only thing that keeps me confident is that nothing can confine my creative imagination. In my creative mind I am still shaping an imaginary world without any geographic, ethnic, and ideological barriers, where people live together freely and peacefully.

I imagine a time when artists will create without any limitations, share their feelings and passions with people around the globe without fear of interrogation regarding their art or remain worried that their creation may be confiscated for whatever reasons.

I imagine a world in which inquisition and intimidation of an artist anywhere on earth will be replaced by freedom and freethinking.

I am still strong and hopeful. I hope that my creation will be released soon. I hope to showcase it in Canada this year and I hope one day my imagination can see the light of day. And as John Lennon sings, “I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”


Sadaf Foroughi”

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