Iranian-French artist Marjane Satrapi was 10 years old when wearing the veil became compulsory, attending a non-religious, French-language school in Tehran. Previously, boys and girls were taught together, but soon she was also separated from her male friends in the name of the cultural revolution promoted by the revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini.
Women’s rights were curtailed almost immediately after 1979: overnight, they lost the right to file for divorce and the right to retain custody of a child. A public dress code was introduced mandating the veil, while the age of marriage for girls was lowered from 18 to 9. Confused, frustrated, and yet still children, Satrapi remembers that she and her female classmates would remove their veils and tie them together to make a rope during recess. How this scene opens is “Persepolis” (2000) — Satrapi’s graphic novel memoir that traces the historical installation of the Islamic republic through the complex prism of childhood.
The work won the 2001 Angoulême Coup de Coeur, France’s national comics award, and was turned into a feature film that won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2007. This week, the first 44 pages of Satrapi’s original manuscript will be auctioned. 44 separate sales – at Sotheby’s London.
The first 44 pages of the work will be available for purchase. Credit: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
If Satrapi had been able to foresee the circumstances, he “would never have put it up for auction,” he told CNN in a phone interview before the event. “Otherwise I would be a very cynical person. (Preparation for this) has been in sales for more than six months.”
The auction house estimates each “Persepolis” page at between £4,000 and £6,000, or roughly $4,500 to $6,700. Satrapi intends to use the proceeds to finance a yet-to-be-specified new film project (“it changes every day,” he explains). He believes that selling the manuscript — which has been stored in his closet for the past 20 years — will be cathartic. “I felt like a monster in my closet,” she said. “He had to go.”
Upon closer inspection, buyers can see reworked drawings and altered panels in the manuscript. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
However, even though the graphic novel is more than two decades old, it remains very relevant. Written from the perspective of Marji, Satrapi’s childhood self, “Persepolis” deals with coming of age under a dictatorship. From participating in demonstrations against religious extremism and secretive prohibition parties to mourning the death of her uncle Anoosh, executed for “spying”, the personal becomes political as Marji’s formative years are entwined with the Islamic revolution.
For Satrapi, the parallels between life in Iran more than 40 years ago and the tumultuous events unfolding today are bittersweet. “It’s a mixture of joy and sadness. Sadness, again, because we have to lose our children. And joy because the culture has changed,” he told CNN. “This is the first feminist movement I know of in the world, where women bring men (to protest). They are behind these girls, all united. It is truly a movement for human rights. Become a global youth movement against archaism, of democracy against dictatorship.”
Image above: Marjane Satrapi at the 15th Zurich Film Festival 2019.