German Curator Kidnapped in Baghdad
By Jae Lamb
On July 20, Berlin-born curator and activist Hella Mewis, currently head of the Tarkib Baghdad Contemporary Arts Institute, was reportedly abducted in Baghdad by unknown perpetrators.
According to Iraqi security circles who provided information to AFP, Mewis was leaving her office at around 8 pm on the Monday evening, when she was seen “dragged into a car outside her office and kidnapped.” The incident reportedly took place on a street “near a police station, but the police did not intervene.” The Iraqi Ministry of Interior has informed intelligence and crime experts and requested them to investigate. On July 21, Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas told a press conference in Athens that the Federal Foreign Office is also looking into the case. The perpetrators have yet to be identified.
Mewis, who has lived in Baghdad since 2012, is known for her support of emerging artists in Iraq as well as the country’s anti-government protest movement, which objects to failures in governance, corruption, and the high unemployment rate. Mewis has also worked for the nonprofit German organization Goethe-Institut in Baghdad, and co-founded Tarkib, an independent artist’s group. She previously criticized the Iraqi government in an interview with PBS in 2019, saying that it “doesn’t care at all about the young generation and art especially. Culture, no, nothing.” In 2016, Mewis initiated a women’s bike demonstration by the Tigris in response to a fatwa issued by Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei, which banned women from riding bikes in public spaces.
The kidnapping and assassination of activists in Iraq has increased in the past few months. Hisham Al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar who voiced his support for the Iraqi protests, was shot dead on July 6 by unidentified men in front of his Baghdad home. Dhikra Sarsam, a friend of Mewis, wrote in a social media post that Mewis was “nervous” following Hisham’s assassination, and that Mewis “expected to be kidnapped because we all expect this fate.”
Many have voiced concerns regarding Mewis’s news, calling for her release with #freedom_for_hella on Twitter, while others have filled her Instagram account with comments wishing for her safety. Ali Al-Mikdam, an Iraqi human-rights activist tweeted, “I’m still shocked, I want her to come back to us safely.” EPIC, an independent organization promoting peaceful change in Iraq, urged its followers on Twitter to “Demand Hella Mewis to be freed unharmed,” and to “Call upon authorities to protect activists.”
Jae Lamb is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.
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