‘Art Revolution’; brings colour and hope to Iraq’s Mosul

The first gigantic mural painted under the initiative — 6 metres in height and 20 metres wide — was about peaceful coexistence and the rejection of sectarianism.
Sunday 10/11/2019
Activists work on a mural in the Old City of Mosul. (Oumayma Omar)
Activists work on a mural in the Old City of Mosul. (Oumayma Omar)

BAGHDAD - The young people of Mosul have grabbed brushes and paint to beautify their war-ravaged city in what they call an “Art Revolution” aimed at erasing the ravages of violence left by Islamic State (ISIS) rule and breathing life back into their heritage.

“It is an expression of the revolt and frustration that’s brewing inside us because of the repression we suffered during [Islamic State] ISIS control of the city. Mosul’s people have many talents that were suppressed and emerged after the departure of the criminal group,” said activist Shaymaa’ Amer.

“Drawing and colourful painting breathe hope for a better life. It is a means for expressing our dreams, unifying the people and regaining confidence in our city with all its diverse ethnicities and confessions after ISIS had attempted to sow discord and hatred between us,” Amer said.

The 21-year-old fine arts student is a member of the “Art Revolution” initiative begun in 2018. Murals and colours have been adorning Mosul’s restored walls and buildings since.

The first gigantic mural painted under the initiative — 6 metres in height and 20 metres wide — was about peaceful coexistence and the rejection of sectarianism, Amer said. “We did a series of murals in al-Thawra neighbourhood, which was extensively damaged in the battles for liberating Mosul. They featured the ruined heritage of Mosul and ancient sites that were destroyed by ISIS,” he said.

The initiative worked in several areas of the city and encouraged organisers to initiate another project, “Colour My Life” focusing on the Old City of Mosul, site of the final battle against ISIS.

“It has facilitated and encouraged the return of thousands of displaced people back to their homes,” Amer said. “We are trying to restore joy and smiles through these colours and in cooperation with the people and citizens to encourage them to quit refugee camps and rebuild their damaged homes.”

The Old City of Mosul, on the western bank of the Tigris River, is home to historic Islamic, Christian and Jewish landmarks, including the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, famous for its leaning minaret.

Young people paint significant historical sites in Mosul to restore the grandeur of the city. Such sites include the Gates of Mosul and the Statue of Osman.

“We are trying to restore the heritage sites of Mosul that disappeared during the war through the drawings,” said Mounir Majed, 19, another activist with “Art Revolution.”

The team of about 20 people came together shortly after the eviction of ISIS  and included young people who were discouraged through intimidation from practising their artistic hobbies, Majed said.

He said he had to burn about 100 canvases he had painted because of fear of arrest by ISIS. “Now I am determined to encourage the youth to regain confidence and do the things they like despite the difficult conditions they have… This is what we could achieve on the ground.”

A favourite mural Majed said he painted with ten teammates over 4 days adorned the wall of the headquarters of Nineveh governorate command.

“The drawing paid tribute to the sacrifices of the Iraqi Army in its fight against ISIS. It depicted different ethnic groups in the city in their traditional attires and famous historical figures from Mosul,” Majed said.

Large murals decorating the city include the leaning minaret of al-Nuri Mosque, the winged bull of Nineveh known as the Lamassu and the Nabi Yunus Mosque, which was destroyed by ISIS.

Majed said the team did not receive financial support from the government. “The only support we got was from some local and international organisations that provided raw materials such as paints and brushes,” he said.

Following the liberation of the city, several projects were commenced to reconstruct and rehabilitate Mosul. The Mosul government introduced a major campaign to clear rubble and traces of ISIS from the Old City. Thousands of homes have undergone reconstruction, allowing for more people to return.

Al-Nuri Mosque, one of the most iconic sites in the city, was destroyed in 2017 by ISIS. UNESCO announced that it would start reconstructing the monument in 2020.

Mosul Mayor Zuhair al-Araji acknowledged the lack of official support for the initiative. “We are unable to help financially because of lack of budget. Nonetheless, we are facilitating their work by removing any obstacles they might encounter,” he said.

“This movement is a clear indication that the youth want to breathe life into their society and restore the love of culture and arts in addition to preaching tolerance and coexistence. The youth were the most affected by ISIS restrictions, which were alien and strange to the society,” Araji said.

An “Art Revolution” activist drawing murals in the Old City of Mosul. foto from contributor
A member of the “Art Revolution” paints a mural.(Oumayma Omar)
The “Art Revolution” initiative encouraged the return of thousands of refugees to the Old City of Mosul. foto from contributor
“Art Revolution” activists drawing murals in the Old City of Mosul. foto from contributor