Somewhere around her home in Ahvaz, in southern Iran, little Bita is sitting on a high vantage point, dressed in a school uniform and white socks, watching the sun go down over the Karun River. From there, she can also observe the scattered bodies of dead dogs across the dry landscape. She never knew why those dogs died, but she decided to bury them properly, something she did with the help of her family’s gardener.
This vague childhood memory comes to the surface when Bita Fayyazi speaks about the origin and process of making her ceramic dead dogs for a work that was later called Road Kill (1998).1 On her frequent trips across Iran, sometimes together with her friend, the painter Mostafa Dashti, Fayyazi would notice the numerous dog bodies on the roads. In an intuitive response to these traumatic encounters, she started making dozens of dead-looking dogs in ceramics. She then scattered them on a remote road near Tehran, to pay her tribute to the thousands of dogs killed in accidents and abandoned to decay on freeways. The subsequent ritual of burying the ceramic dogs in a mass grave could be seen as a symbolic gesture to bring attention to the issue of the harsh life and painful death of street animals, which usually face neglect and indifference. The artist tries to treat the dead dogs as we do our deceased loved ones. She gives them the mourning and burial ritual they deserve — not just as our most ancient and loyal companions but more importantly as living, feeling beings who have the right to their existence and habitat, which is drastically manipulated by humans.
Bita Fayyazi’s project is one of the early examples of Iranian contemporary art to directly address issues of animal morality. She has continued to explore ecological issues in an intimate, expressive tone throughout her artistic career.
1 From an interview with Bita Fayyazi, February 4, 2023.
Bita Fayyazi, Helia Darabi, “Road Kill,” in mohit.art NOTES #1 (April 2023); published on www.mohit.art, March 24, 2023.