Amid the anti-government protests that have gripped Baghdad since October, dozens of young artists have taken to the streets with their weapons of choice: spray paints and paintbrushes. Full of anger and hope, they have turned a long-neglected tunnel that passes under the city’s Tahrir Square into a colorful revolutionary art gallery with murals and statements painted on its walls.
Caesar al-Wardi, a 28-year-old lawyer and photographer, has been there since the start. On October 1, amid live ammunition and tear gas used against the protesters, al-Wardi defied Iraq’s riot police with art, taking a small canvas and writing the word “freedom” on it in red.
“I embodied all my feelings and poured my whole soul into that graffiti,” he said.
Most of the murals in Baghdad’s Al-Saadoun Tunnel refer to Iraqi unity. They condemn sectarianism and call for national sovereignty and an end to foreign intervention. They hail the heroism of tuk-tuk drivers who help get injured protesters to medical stations. They also lament the silence of the world against a violent crackdown on protests, which has killed 600 people so far, according to Amnesty International. (See a related article, “Inside Iraq’s Protests: Students Are Defiant in Their Demands.”)
“I felt the need for a real graffiti revolution in Baghdad,” said al-Wardi. “I got acquainted with many painters and started organizing them and raising funds to buy the paints they needed. I found myself [acting as] a mentor,” he added, smiling. “I focused on street art as a powerful means to peacefully convey our demands.”
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]