week twelve – keys to paradise

May 8th, 2014 by lydiachen

The key to paradise was for poor people. Thousands of young kids, promised a better life, exploded on the minefields with their keys around their necks (Satrapi 102).

There are many images from Persepolis that I find hard to forget. One that struck me forcefully both at the time of reading and haunts me even after I’ve turned the last page is that of the keys given to young boys to encourage them to fight without fear. I’ve seen propaganda materials preserved in history books and magazines, seen the grainy black and white footage of angry diatribes egging a crowd to violence, but the understated sorrow and horror in seeing a mother’s perspective is what I tried to capture in my creative response this week.

It’s a plastic key painted gold (Satrapi 99).

key to paradise

key to fame

key to hope


My work is a series of keys and coffins made of paper. As in Persepolis, the key itself is worthless, made of plastic (in the book) and paper (in my work). Its value, supposedly, comes from the promise it symbolizes: paradise, hope, fame. But these things, ultimately, are superficial. Rather than religious fulfillment, they are empty specters propped up by military and political agendas. Behind each looms the real promise that underprivileged people in this environment can depend upon—death.

Persepolis addressed many of the modern conceptions of Islam in a way that was both touching and accessible. It does not shirk from the dangerous claims that people have made in the name of Islam and in the name of God. As the story progresses, Marjane’s conversations with God become less and less frequent until one day, the friendly, bearded man disappears entirely from her narrative. His disappearance is correlated, in my mind, with the fading of God from the political and military agendas of the time. Not one of the keys given to the children contain God—instead, they contain superficial representations of God. They are paper promises, keys only to a tiny coffin and an early grave.

Medium: Origami, Paper-cutting

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