His long black coat emphasizes its fine silhouette. Wearing a felt hat a bit outdated, Mana Neyestani is very shy.
His face is dry, angular. His humor is black and squeaky. Despite its opposition to the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime, Mana did not want to be seen as a leader:
“With the difficulties that I already have, to be my own advocate …”
The life of Mana seems very tortuous: Tehran prisons, flight moving to Dubaï, and finally Paris where he lived thanks to the international network of shelters cities: “ My criminal record is not closed in Iran. Since 2009, I continue to draw for opposition sites. It would only increase my pain. Specifically, I cannot go back to my country.”
“It all started with a cockroach”
“I worked for a magazine for children, in an official newspaper named: Iran, which belongs to the state. I drew in a week end supplement and I had the responsibility to publish four pages, with eight or nine drawings. One day we decided that the theme was “the cockroach.” One of my drawings was a cockroach talking to a child. It used an Azeri Turkish word from Iranian Azerbaijan.
It was a common word that I have used without any ulterior motive. But the use of the word has shocked the Turkish ethnic Azeri. ”
“There are parents who called me to complain about the history of the cockroach, I had not paid attention, but we have to deal with ethnic sensibilities, you know.”
“Yes in this drawing, your cockroach say an Azeri term”
“What?,” Namana? “you kidding we told that all the time when we cannot find our word” Namana “? “I know it happens but be very careful in the future”
Excerpt from “An Iranian Metamorphosis” Mana Neyestani (Arte Editions)
Azeri minority of Turkish origin living in Northern Iran and has been oppressed for a long time by the central government. The Mana Neyestanis draw is seen as an insult, and as the perfect excuse for starting riots.
Mana Neyestani and his editor have apologized, but nothing works. The situation is worse and worse and takes an unexpected scale, “It took seven or eight days, it was very fast.”
Azerbaijanis (azéris) took to the streets.
“I did not even realize that this word was Turkish. I had no offensive thinking, “says Mana Meyestani.
“As a cartoonist, one is often confronted with protests. Previously, I had problems because I represented a caricature with a panther nibbling crackers. The company accused me of tarnishing the brand. ”
The government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes Mana Neyestani responsible for the riots. He was sentenced for disturbing public order.
Mana Neyestani is imprisoned with his editor at Evin Prison: prison number 209, unofficial section. He was questionned and was invited the protesters. He spends weeks isolated. Meanwhile, anti-government demonstrations of Azerbaijanis are increasing. The regime in Tehran is shooting at the crowds. Mana Neyestani is again held responsible.
In the comic, the image of the cockroach is a Kafkaesque symbol of the complexities of the Iranian government, “Kafka was one of my favorite books. The Kafkaesque situations are something that inspires me, “sighed the designer.
Inscriptions on the walls of the prison, 209
“It is a pity that the inscriptions on the walls of the prison were not translated. These are the remains of prisoners: a poet, a train driver, professors, dervishes, Al Qaeda members…
Did Mana Neyestani left his name on the wall?
“I do not remember very well… Some memories are blurred. I told only what I saw. And often I was blindfolded. I heard noises, sounds, names. I was in a tunnel. As a consequence, the comic suggests more than it shows. ”
“I did not say goodbye to my mother”
After two months of detention, Mana took advantage of a temporary freedom to leave the country with his wife Mansoureh. It was impossible to say goodbye to his mother
“The great moments of solitude”
Mana flew with his wife Mansoureh. The couple Arrived at Dubai airporrt, with fifteen days ahead to find a country of asylum:
“Those are great moments of solitude. We felt abandoned by everyone. There was a lot of NGOs and people who wanted to help us. But I think the situation was so big that nobody could do much for us. I did not want to blame anyone, it could not happen some other ways.
I was someone who had gone to prison, who had political problems. I had to leave my country urgently.
“I don’t feel lonely because Mansoureh is here”
In the comic “An Iranian metamorphosis” Mansoureh is a luminous figure
“That is my view of Mansoureh. Today, when she looks at the book, she found that I embellished his character in love and sacrifice. But Mansoureh has always been by my side. The book reflects that. I do not feel the loneliness because she’s there.
Initially, the idea was to make a book with here because she is a designer. I wanted to tell my story in prison and her outside.
Unfortunately, it has not been done. We did not have time. ”
“Will it be a second volume?”
He replies smiling: “No, for me, now, this story is over.”