As clashes between ISIS and the Iraqi forces enter their final stage in the western half of Mosul, life in the eastern half is returning to normal. Amidst reconstruction efforts, caring for returning refugees and reopening businesses across the city, a group of artists have taken onto themselves to remove symbols of ISIS’ brutal role and replace them with images depicting the beauty and richness of Iraq.
“Volunteer with us” is one such organisation. Concentrated in the Sumer District of east Mosul, their efforts are aimed towards painting images, murals and signs on the walls across the district. These images vary in theme. Some of them refer to recent history such as the sacrifices made by the Iraqi forces in liberating the city and its revitalisation in the post-ISIS era. Soldiers, flags, reconstruction and good deeds are a common theme in these murals as they seek to acknowledge that despite many different religions and ethnicities, everybody here is an Iraqi. “The reality of Mosul”, one artist describes it as, rather than the black-and-white vision that ISIS promoted.
Others refer to much older history, depicting the symbols associated with the ancient civilisations of Babylon, Sumer and Assyria. The Winged Bull, a symbol shared by all three civilisations, is a common theme in such murals. However, the depiction of monuments, some now lost due to ISIS, is also common, highlighting the continuity between the ancient people who found the city of Nineveh and those who live in Mosul today. ISIS militants tried to destroy the city’s rich history and heritage and, perhaps in doing so, reminded the people here why such trappings are important.
These volunteer works for the public display more than just beauty and history. They display that the community spirit and civic empowerment shown by the people of east Mosul in the immediate days of liberation is alive and well months later. What started as scattered individuals painting over ISIS symbols, propaganda and proclamations has become an organised effort to heal a city that went through three years of tyranny.