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The Paykan was painted by Iranian artist and activist Alireza Shojaian to give voice to LGBTQ+ people living in oppression in Iran.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

To decorate this vintage car and protest human rights abuses in Iran, artist-in-exile Alireza Shojaian has used traditional Persian art forms, but subverted them with a homoerotic theme. The car, now showing in Toronto, is an Iranian-made Paykan Hillman Hunter from 1974 that was once a gift from the Shah of Iran to the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. It was purchased by an international non-profit that advocates for human rights in Iran to launch PaykanArtCar, commissioning artists to transform the car. The project’s inaugural artist is Shojaian, who has deployed a popular Persian style, known as teahouse painting, that uses saturated colours and clear lines to tell traditional stories. The artist depicts two heroes from Persian myth, characters from the 11th-century epic Shahnameh (or Book of Kings), but poses them as lovers to protest against the suppression of LGBTQ rights in Iran. The painted Paykan is an example of the British Hillman Hunters, made under licence in from 1967-2005, that became symbols of national pride in Iran. The car will be on view at 1956 Gerrard Street East in Toronto until Dec. 15 and will also be shown in Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal.

Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

Dr. Hiva Feizi, executive director and co-founder, top, and Dr. Feizi discussing the piece with Heidi Ruggier, bottom, in Toronto on Nov. 19.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

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