Books in the MCL: Let Her Be Free. ICY and SOT, 2016

Let Her Be Free” chronicles the journey of Iranian brothers Icy and Sot as street artists and the evolution of their work over the decade from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s. The book showcases the brothers’ activism through their art and their efforts to bring attention to many important social and political issues, including human rights, women’s political and personal autonomy, environmental justice, migration, gun violence, capitalism, the effects of war, homelessness, police brutality, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, free speech, and child welfare.

Growing up in Tabriz, Iran, Icy and Sot participated as teens in a street culture that encompassed skateboarding and a slowly burgeoning street art scene, perhaps feeding their desire for self-expression and personal activism. They began experimenting with different techniques and styles in places like Tehran, where local artists like A1one, Magoi, CK1, and Bigchiz dominated the street art scene, in turn inspiring others. As news of the emerging growth of street art in the West gained cultural currency on the Internet, the brothers were also influenced by international street artists such as Banksy, whom they looked up to as role models.

Leaving their home country for Brooklyn, New York, they continued to develop their skills and gained recognition as street artists on a wider platform thanks to exhibitions and exposure in the press. Their work became recognizable for its use of stencils often underwritten by solid political messages. Over the next decade, Icy and Sot traveled the world, exhibiting their artworks in countries such as the US, Germany, China, Norway, Italy, and Australia. They collaborated with other artists, climbed walls, hung off ladders, skated through streets, and experimented with different materials and techniques to create their art – increasingly on display at street art festivals and in the gallery setting.

Icy and Sot’s work has often been compared to Banksy’s, especially regarding their shared use of art as a voice for the voiceless. They use their street art to resist censorship, challenge accepted conventional wisdom, and bring attention to abuses of power with an ability to express complex social and political issues both indirectly and straightforwardly.

The book is filled with over 200 full-color images that document the brothers’ art, showcasing their work in Iran and cities worldwide, providing a retrospective of their first-decade evolution as street artists. “Let Her Be Free” is introduced by Jess X Chen and features an afterword by Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington, the founders of Brooklyn Street Art. The book also includes quotes from prominent street artists and contemporaries, including John Fekner, Faith47, Niels “Shoe” Meulman, Hugo Kaagman, and Adam Neate. It is an in-depth look at the brothers’ work, which first became recognizable for its stridently activist and human voice on the street, likely inspiring a new generation of artists who want to bring attention to the issues they care about.

Text: Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo    Fotos: Sebastian Kläbsch