Members of the Fallujah Institute of Fine Arts have turned an old ISIS prison into an exhibition to remember the group's victims.
The city of Fallujah has been on a slow but steady path to recovery ever since it was liberated from ISIS militants mid-2016. Fallujans have been returning to their homes and reconstruction is slowly taking shape. For many of the people here, however, the traumatic memories of two-and-a-half years of ISIS rule continue to linger.
Looking to create an outlet for the city’s traumatic memories and to canonise the group’s victims, a group of professors and students from the Fallujah Institute of Fine Arts have turned a former ISIS prison to an exhibition site.
Prior to the arrival of ISIS, the building used to be an academy for teachers. The group turned the building into a security headquarters, converting classrooms into cells and torture chambers. A mass grave found in the basement of the building is an example of the horrors that took place here and the fate of many of the group’s victims.
The artists have been working hard to cover the walls of the building with murals recounting ISIS’ crimes or simply envisaging a better, brighter tomorrow for Fallujah. Other areas have been turned into memorials, including the aforementioned mass grave. Where available, the names of the victims are inscribed. But all too often, the identities of the many victims remain unknown.
Many Fallujans know that their city has the dubious honour of being the first Iraqi city to fall under ISIS’ shadow. They hope that their efforts can help set out a new mindset for their city, one that prevents the group’s extremist ideology from ever taking hold again.Indeed, events promoting national unity and foster tolerance have become commonplace in the city since the defeat of ISIS.
Beyond Fallujah, artwork and murals have been used in cities across Iraq, especially Mosul, to deal with the history of ISIS and to promote the vision for a better and more united Iraq. Artworks that were once banned under the militant group now seem to be the primary way Iraqis seek to remember the events of the past three years, and set a warning for the future of the dangers of extremism.