Leila: Tehran

26 x 26 narrative

When the United States passed more economic sanctions on Iran, a group of activists gathered on the streets in Tehran and released white balloons to show that the Iranian people – not the government – respect peace. I downloaded this photo from a news agency website and for some reason saved it in my files. When I look at it now, I understand it as missing my work as an activist and missing Tehran's streets, where my friends and I launched campaigns for women's rights. Most importantly, this photo reminds me of my mixed feelings of anger and hope, of belonging to a group and of our anxious struggle to make change – and of course, fear accompanied all of this. I feel like a balloon floating in the air, on the street, free in spirit and in constant movement.

Leila: Albuquerque

26 x 19.5 narrative

In 2014 I went on my first academic trip to the city of Albuquerque in New Mexico. Walking alone one afternoon in its historic downtown, I stopped and stared at this house with walls of clay in the fashion of the historic clay buildings in Iran ¬– in my hometown of Mashhad and in other cities. It was simple but sophisticated, and old. It seemed as enigmatic as my own culture, with the metaphorical “Sale” sign on the door. I wondered who had lived here and when, and what had happened to the house that it was now for sale.

Leila: Arizona

22.5 x 17 narrative

This Sufi dance took place at a concert in Arizona where the Indian-Iranian singer mixed Persian folk songs and melodies with Indian traditional music and electronic instruments. For me, the songs were like moving along and between borders and edges. The dancer appeared on stage and spun for almost seven and a half minutes, in Sufi style, adding to the complexity of the music. The dance was simply a constant spinning while standing in the same spot on the floor, her head and body moving and her skirt flying around, a symbol of crossing spaces but standing strong on the ground. She spun so many times in the same place that it was almost nauseating, and then she calmly came to a stop.