"Smile Project"

 

In 2012 I returned home after being away studying in the UK. Though I was away only for two years I already felt disconnected from my city. I was like a stranger as I walked the streets.

Maybe the speed of change is so fast in our society, or maybe new experiences change us more than we realize; I'm not sure but I know I didn't feel the same between my people anymore. Maybe it was all the same but being away and experiencing a more lonely student life, along with my last memories of there in my experiences in the streets of Tehran during the green protests right before leaving the country, had made me fantasize about my society so after I was back and everything was back to normal, I didn't feel the warmth or connection that I expected. 

I always had this connection to the streets, especially in Tehran. My father was born and grew up in Tehran, he was from an influential family, and one street in Tehran is still named after his grandfather. Every time we were out, he used to stop somewhere, telling us a story about the place, a historical event, or a family memory. A funny childhood story or a sad serious one about the country. He was the kind of person who loved his country and people and always threatened everyone as a neighbor.  To him, all the country was HOME. This love grew inside his children too, and I always had this deep connection to the streets, where I spent a lot of my time walking, photographing, hanging out with friends in cafes, little theaters, and parks, discovering life and beauty in every corner, finding favorite architectures, buildings and public places with historical memories... We used to photograph people, cats, birds, and trees in different seasons. it was Home. And after I was back, I felt that I had lost my home. I wanted it back. I was looking for a way to reunion to the streets I treasured.

I needed a way to reconnect myself to my community and take that feeling of being comfortable and safe between my people in the streets back again.

On the other hand, street art was a passion of mine since college time, I knew if I share my art with people, I will know them again. but at the time I wasn't as brave as to stand up in public and make art on a wall without any legal permission. I decided to take my printed illustrations to the streets and stick them around.

I usually did that in front of people so that I can see their reactions, to talk about it, and to share a new experience of an unusual little incident that has no other purpose than to make a connection through art. To discover something beautiful, newly strange or even funny and make them small. 

People always see advertisings and paid social propaganda or even vandalism and protesting graffiti everywhere, but not many of them see someone leaving some pictures around for no purpose rather than to be there for them to see by accident. To make them forget about all the difficulties of real life in such a country for a minute and smile.

I also wanted to surprise people in having them find those pictures in the most unexpected places. I wanted them to think for a second about that simple beauty that has no other purpose except to exist for them to see. I wanted to raise a question/ wonder in their minds for a second, like a surprise.

 

At first, I thought children were my intended audience, as I liked to leave something just for them in the rough adult city environment and to find it and take it with them if they wanted to. This is why I didn't print them as stickers, but to place them with a two-sided or rolled tap, and put them a bit lower for them to be able to see.

I took some of the illustrations from my children's books' characters so that my characters would become alive, walking in the streets and going directly to the children. But I found out that my stickers were as interesting for adults as children, or even more.

Sometimes the adults would ask me to give them one of my stickers before I stick them or sign them on the back. Sometimes would I stick one to the wall and the next minute I would see someone taking it with him! 

Some asked about why I was placing my characters and what it meant, and some just smiled and pass. But never once, did anyone react negatively or did I feel unsafe. It was as if this was a strange act, but it was also a positive one that they wanted to be a part of it, helping to place them to take a photo of me doing it, or they wanted to take it back with them as a memory, and it made me feel so happy about what I was doing.

I was merely leaving a little story for them to wonder on; a moment of beauty in the streets for them to just pass by. Or not. And I took back with me many stories of little beautiful smiles, and sometimes stories of lives in conversations. 

My stickers had never had a brand or name on them. My intention was never to present my artwork for my own sake. However, I started to post photos of my project on Instagram later, many got to know them through this, and they even became known overseas and got me several interviews about Street Art. for example, part of a final MA project about street art in Germany and were featured in many magazines in Iran and overseas like web news or the Tirgan Festival magazine in Canada. Where I collaborated with them later as art director and illustrator. 

After showing on Instagram, I received photos from friends who were noticing the stickers in the streets by accident, and some of them as old as 7 months or even a year.

But most importantly, I had that sense of belonging to my society back again, and I felt like a part of my culture, my country again. I had my streets back with the help of all those smiles!

© 2019 by Negin Ehtesabian  / Created with Wix.com

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