Iran front pages mourn trailblazing female mathematician




Tehran (AFP) - Iranian media have hailed trailblazing Iran-born mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani following her death from cancer, with her image blazoned across newspaper front pages on Sunday.

In some cases newspapers even broke with tradition and portrayed Mirzakhani without her hair covered by a hijab -- mandatory for women in public since the Islamic republic's 1979 revolution.

Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the coveted Fields Medal, died aged 40 on Saturday in a US hospital after the breast cancer she had been battling for four years spread to her bone marrow.

Mirzakhani was born and studied in Iran before leaving to pursue her career in the United States.

When she won the Fields Medal -- the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics -- in 2014, newspapers used every means possible to avoid showing her hair, including publishing old images of her in Iran with covered hair or drawing her picture with an improvised head scarf.

Some criticised the move then and on Sunday many chose to publish Mirzakhani's picture without a hijab -- perhaps easier to justify for authorities after her death.

Hamshahri, a centrist newspaper owned by the municipality of Tehran, and reformist economic daily Donyaye Eghtesad both used full-blown portraits of her without a hijab.

"The Queen of Mathematics' Eternal Departure," Donyaye Eghtesad's headline read.

The reformist Shargh daily published a photo of her wearing a hat -- under the headline "The Queen of Numbers Land" -- while some others used designs and photo editing to fade her signature short hair into a black backdrop.

- 'Truly devastated' -

Only ultraconservative newspapers Resalat and Keyhan did not feature Mirzakhani's picture on the front page, with the latter covering her story in an inside page with a picture of her wearing hijab.

There was an outpouring of grief from Iranians over her passing, not least because she represented a more globalised and positive image of the country than usually depicted.

"Her work and her scientific achievements are clearly beyond my understanding but from the little knowledge I have, I can see how immense her intelligence and works are," said Nima Zaare, a Tehran-based artist who drew a portrait of Mirzakhani following her Fields Medal win.

"Normally I don't do portraits, but I was greatly honoured to draw such a genius. I was truly devastated when I heard the news of her death yesterday," he added.

Messages of grief also poured in on social media, including from senior officials.

President Hassan Rouhani was among the first to react following news of her death, posting a recent picture of Mirzakhani on Instagram without her head covered.

Writing in Shargh about Mirzakhani, reformist figure Azar Mansouri urged Rouhani to pick female ministers to his new cabinet which will be formed in the coming weeks, following his re-election in May.

"Appreciating the likes of Mirzakhani" is only possible by "establishing equal opportunities for them," she wrote.

Rouhani currently has three female deputies but no woman ministers.

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