Living off the Wall: A Day with the Protest-Mural Painters of Nasiriyah

By Haider Yacoubi, Nasiriyah

Local man Ali Kazem begins his day on a central bridge in the city of Nasiriyah by sharpening his pencil. The 22-year-old is one of the artists who has been drawing murals during this province’s anti-government protests and he is planning a new artwork today.
The mural he plans will depict the Iraqi soccer team’s recent victory over Iran during qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup and in his painting, he will include a portrait of team member Safaa Hadi wearing a mask, the same way the anti-government protesters do. The player has been seen as sympathetic to the young, mostly male protesters and this is a way of thanking him for that, Kazem explained.
Kazem starts drawing, then moves away a little, to better see his work at a distance. Like most of the other mural artists here, he is unemployed. The demand for jobs was one of the main reasons anti-government protests in Iraq started. Kazem looks at the wall and then back at his phone, where he has the original image he is copying from.

A few meters to his left, another painter who wanted to be known only as Ahmed puts the finishing touches to his work. He squats down and puts his brush into a water bottle. “I’m done,” he explains, sighing.
Ahmed takes off the gloves he was wearing to paint; he has just turned 18 and is now eligible to vote in Iraq. “This wall has exhausted me,” he says, sitting on the curb, hands on his knees, legs extended. “I had to whitewash it several times before painting because I couldn’t get the dirt off it, after tires were burned nearby.”
For this mural, Ahmed says he was inspired by a now-famous video in which an elderly man at the protests was being beaten by the police. Despite the blows, the man seemed determined to keep holding his Iraqi flag aloft.
“I was shivering as I watched it,” Ahmed explains. “He was in pain but he refused to let the flag touch the ground.”
Ahmed eventually hopes to finish high school and then do a fine arts degree. “I hope nobody burns any tires near my work,” he adds.
Next to him, Kazem has finished applying the green of the football player’s shirt to his artwork. He is now mixing some new colours on a wooden palette next to him on the ground.
On the other side of the bridge, we meet Dirar Haider, who is working on his fourth painting, using only black and white.
“No problems,” Haider shouts to the painter who is working above him and who has accidentally spilled some drops of green onto the monotone artwork. “It’s fine, I’ll fix it,” he says, lighting his cigarette. “We all have one goal here: reform,” he adds, grinning.
Haider is 25 years old and he’s wearing a white lab coat to work in. This is no accident – when he is not here he works as a laboratory assistant at a local hospital. “I finish work and come here,” he says. “And the message of this painting is love and peace. I replaced the smoke bomb with a bouquet of flowers.”
Just then a taxi pulled up next to the painter and stopped. The driver rolled down the window. “May God give you strength” he said, before driving on.

“Some of the paintings are my own ideas,” Haider explains, “others are inspired by paintings from the Arab Spring, with a few alterations. The violence that has happened here in Nasiriyah leaves the world with a bad image of our city. We’re here to rectify that,” he says.
A young woman gets out of a car, together with her mother. Manar al-Zaidi walks towards a wall near where Haider is painting and the two exchange greetings. Most of the painters here today met on Instagram. “Thank goodness, nobody took my space,” al-Zaidi says, as she pulls out her tools to start work on a small area of wall that she had labelled “reserved”.
Meanwhile her mother is walking among the other painters, distributing sweets and bottles of water.
“The problems of this country have not killed our creativity,” al-Zaidi says. “We will fill these walls with colours, so that the world knows we are here and that we want to spread peace,” she proclaims.

Back at Kazem’s mural, the pencil is still tucked behind his ear. But now his fingers are so covered in paint and stains that he can hardly use the screen on his mobile phone, to compare his painting and the photograph of the football player.
He moves back a little more, assessing his work, a frown on his face, his eyebrows arched. His eyes go from the phone to the picture and back again. Then he smiles, just faintly. He is finished this painting he put so much effort into. He takes some varnish out to apply a final layer and laughs. “I swear, I am a great painter!,” he calls out to the other artists working here. Everyone laughs.

Related Articles

36 Comments

  1. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who had
    been conducting a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast due to the fact
    that I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this….
    Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to talk about this matter here on your web page.

  2. We are a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
    Your site offered us with valuable information to work
    on. You’ve done an impressive job and our whole community will be thankful to you.

  3. Great post. I was checking constantly this blog
    and I am impressed! Very helpful information particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such information a lot.
    I was seeking this particular info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  4. I have been browsing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It’s pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made good
    content as you did, the net will be much more useful
    than ever before.

  5. Hello, i believe that i saw you visited my site so i came to return the
    prefer?.I’m trying to to find issues to improve my website!I suppose its adequate to
    make use of some of your ideas!!

  6. Aw, this was a very good post. Taking the time and actual effort to make a great article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

  7. If you are going for finest contents like I do, only pay a visit this web page
    everyday because it presents feature contents, thanks

  8. certainly like your web-site however you need to test the spelling on quite a
    few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very bothersome to inform the
    reality however I will certainly come back again.

  9. Magnificent beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend
    your web site, how could i subscribe for a
    weblog web site? The account helped me a acceptable deal.
    I were tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided brilliant transparent idea

  10. Hi would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?

    I’m going to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a hard time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and
    Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and
    I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask! quest bars http://j.mp/3C2tkMR quest bars

  11. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you so
    much, However I am encountering issues with your RSS.
    I don’t know why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody
    else having identical RSS issues? Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond?
    Thanks!! scoliosis surgery https://0401mm.tumblr.com/ scoliosis surgery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button