Walls of Defiance – Teezad Tabriz
Defiant regimes are constructing walls along the borders of Mexico to stop Mexicans to enter the US, along the Palestine to separate Israelis, along Bangladesh border by India and even Myanmar, Saudi Arabia along Iraq border as China did hundreds of years ago to stop robbery. Walls or bulwarks are made of either concrete or steel or iron or lead which King Julkarnine build to bar gog and magogs coming out of their haven to harm people. Usually these walls are inanimate objects, having no language to communicate with rational animal like human let alone joining a protest procession because they have no life. But these walls built by the modern day rulers are becoming a tool of protest.
The recent global spike in right wing populists explain the equally growing defiance among the masses. What remains is a strong and growing distance between the ruling elites and the people. This distance can be imagined as those walls and barricades jolted out from the ground to hold off resistance of any form; amidst the Hong Kong protests or perhaps the women rising up on Baghdad’s walls there exists a glaring contrast that explains consequences of repression and the common anxiety amongst the general population.
Graffiti, including those sprayed on walls in the wake of ever-shrinking space for freedom of expression, has long been a tool of protest across the world including those in Bangladesh. It has staged a vigorous comeback on the walls of DU and BUET campuses. In Bangladesh, graffiti has been used to raise concern since the time of the Liberation War during 1971. In recent times, students of the Bangladesh University and Engineering Technology (BUET) and Dhaka University (DU) have resorted to this form of art again to protest against the gruesome murder of Abrar Fahad.
A walk down the streets of BUET and DU reveals signs of a protest against the university authorities: a painting of Fahad’s dead body here, a slogan there, a poster on a police barricade, streamers hanging between buildings and trees. These are all testimony to the anger that some of the students feel against the authorities and against the government.
The Lennon Wall in Hong Kong is an example of the creative defiance that resurfaced globally in means of protest. It has been symbolic in encouraging solidarity and demanding free expression – the wall of democracy to some extent. The 2019 protests in Hong Kong saw new Lennon Walls forming across territory.
In the past few months since October, Iraq has witnessed a surge of anti-government protests across territory. The protesters represent a section of society and quite unusually for a traditionally patriarchal and conservative nation, women have acquired the driving seat.
The women’s leading role has gained stature and are celebrated in murals which have sprung up across the capital, Baghdad. Tahrir Square in Baghdad, the fortress of the protests has materialized itself into a depot of creative defiance.
The iconic symbolism achieved through the murals paying tribute to the spirit and strength of Iraqi women depict the visual representation of the protests. These artworks, often created by women, highlight their increasingly active role in the protests.
They encourage personal and national liberation amongst its people. The demonstrations and murals enable women to reclaim their position in society which otherwise has remained patriarchal in nature and gives voice to the many seeking to reestablish their national identity.
The murals bringing together a collective cause shape the community of women and shine a light of hope for what’s to come in the future. Regardless of disapproval from parents and husbands over their safety, 400 people have been killed by Iraqi security forces, yet the women keep adding up sometimes secretly.
For a society where women and men have seldom stood side by side in protest, their coming together to work towards a shared goal is a major social achievement and calls for earned celebration.
Despite the many images highlighting the current political and social dilemmas across a fifteen year long civil war ravaged nation, Lebanon is going through what seems an evolution of society. The message is simple, ‘unity and peace’ and a few artists are adding new tints to the walls where once terrorist militias marked their territory with their graffiti.
After the government announced new tax measures on October 17, Lebanon witnessed an uprising. Tens of thousands of peaceful protestors rooting from different class sectors and religious sects waving the Lebanese flag have come together in protest of social and economic reforms and accused the government of corruption.
Much like any other protests across the globe this year, the 2019 protests in Lebanon have gained a creative sense of defiance in the graffiti painted on the walls of Beirut.
A phoenix emerges from a burning forest that depicts and pays tribute to the fires that ravaged the Lebanese mountains shortly before the protests began. The mythical bird depicts the Lebanese people’s rise against sectarianism and corruption in the governing bodies.
Nazer, one such artist painted a long concrete barrier that protects a UN building and it has since been named the ‘wall of the revolution’. Graffiti art depicting political leaders of different sects like clowns have been a highlight of the entire protest. The clown’s face originating from the film ‘Joker’ has been a major tool in weaponising defiance and protest – an iconic form of resistance that has been used across the globe in numerous protests ever since the release of the film in early October.
The murder of Alaa Abou Fakhr, a 39 year old peaceful protester and father of three children saw Lebanese protestors mourn in vigils held across the country on the 13th of November. Amnesty International has stamped it as a human rights violation and urged that it should only be investigated by civilian prosecutors and not military.
On 12 November, an army vehicle drove past a crowd of peaceful protestors in the coastal town of Khalde, south of Beirut. At one point, an army personnel shot into the air and subsequently shot Alaa Abou Fakhr in the head. The 39 year old died shortly after been taken to the hospital.
There has been no better reason to fight for a better future for Lebanon than now. More than a decade of civil war, suicide attacks and car bombings and on top of that, key ruling figures from different religious sects have dominated the political scene for a very long time. The Lebanese slogan ‘All of them means all of them’ is aimed at these key political figures and depicts the frustration of the Lebanese people toward religious sectarianism ruling over their nation ever since.
Whether it’s a wall drawn up between the US-Mexico border and the Lennon walls rising up across Hong Kong or the Iraqi women on their walls – the point is the same.
The years of repression, of deep-rooted fear of one’s safety and the dying of freedom of speech has seen an uprising globally. The tools have been renovated and welcomed back. With graffiti, it is like saying, ‘if I can’t touch you, I will leave my mark’ and that speaks volumes when put in the context of ‘protest’ and ‘resistance’.
G. Michael Hopf in his book ‘Those Who Remain’ says “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.” – a quote well popular in the context of resistance and protest.