A bright, colorful wall of art is making over a once dark, uninviting passage under Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq.
“We want a nation, not a prison,” is the message of one painting of a man breaking free from jail. Another reads, “Plant a revolution, and you will harvest a nation.” That painting shows a hand making a victory sign above the heads of protesters.
Some of the messages are angry. “Look at us, Americans, this is all your fault,” declares one.
The Saadoun Tunnel has become an art space representing Iraq’s massive anti-government activist movement. Along its walls, young artists draw murals, portraits and messages that examine the country’s tortured past -- and the country they hope to create for the future.
Above the tunnel, Tahrir Square is the center of the protest movement. Thousands of people occupy the square, making it seem like a small city itself.
Security forces and protesters clash every day nearby. The troops use tear gas, bullets and small sound bombs to prevent protesters from crossing the Tigris River. On the other side is the so-called Green Zone, the headquarters of Iraq’s government. Tuk tuks — three-wheeled motorized transports — often travel back and forth through Saadoun Tunnel, taking wounded protesters to hospitals.
The tunnel, the tuk tuks and the square are some of the symbols of the largest protest movement in Iraq’s history.
The demonstrations began October 1. The activists were angry about corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services.
Now, they are demanding new leadership.
Young protesters, both men and women, crowd the tunnel. The activists talk, take selfie pictures and pass the time. Pictures on the walls mock Iraqi politicians. Other paintings honor the tuk tuks and the protesters. One image shows a woman with an Iraqi flag painted on her cheek. She holds up her arm in a sign of strength. It is a re-creation of the famous American “We Can Do It” propaganda poster.
Haydar Mohammed said he and a group of other medical students are partly responsible for the murals. They saw the tunnel walls as a perfect medium to send a message to those who do not trust the protesters, he said.
“We are life-makers not death-makers,” he said. “We decided to draw simple paintings to support our protester brothers and to express our message, which is a peace message.”
Many of the murals carry calls for peace, a free Iraq and an end to sectarianism. In one painting, a little girl cries, declaring “They killed my dream.” Men, some in religious clothing, stand behind her.
Another shows an Iraqi protester wearing a helmet. Its message in Arabic reads, “In the heart is something that cannot be killed by guns, which is the nation.” Nearby is written, in English, “All What I want is life.”
Yahya Mohammed praises the pictures that surround him in the Saadoun Tunnel.
“Every time I look at them I am hopeful that the revolution will not end,” the 32-year-old said, adding, “This tunnel gives me hope.”
I’m Caty Weaver.
The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
mural - n. a usually large painting that is done directly on the surface of a wall
portrait - n. a painting, drawing, or photograph of a person that usually only includes the person's head and shoulders
motorized - adj. having an engine
symbol - n. an action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality
mock - v. to criticize and laugh at (someone or something) for being bad, worthless, or unimportant
helmet - n. a hard hat that is worn to protect your head
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