Samar chose the word “Jaffa” (pronounced “yafa”). Jaffa, which today is part of Tel Aviv, is the city from which most families here in Balata come from, before being made refugees in 1948. She chose this word because she wants the young generations to know where their real homeland is.
Mira (15 years old) chose the word “Shajaah” (bravery in arabic). She told me that you have to be brave to live in Balata. There’s constant tension in the Camp, shootings waking you up at night, and incertainty when it come to the future.
Maryam (14 years old) chose the word “Soul” and wanted me to write it in English. She told me that the soul is the only part of a person that remains truly free. People can take her freedom away, but her soul will remain free.
“I chose the word “Omy” (=my mother in Arabic). My mother has cancer and I want to show her love. This mural is for her.” – Iyara, 11 years old, in Balata Refugee Camp, Palestine.
Mohamed wanted me to paint the word “Palestine”. Unlike many slums and refugee camps I have worked in, the walls of Balata have a lot of tags and graffiti on them. Many of these tags contain messages claiming freedom for Palestine, usualy written in the national colours. When I walked around Balata on the first day I knew straight away that someone was going to ask me to paint “Palestine”. .
Maimuna chose the word YARINTA ( = childhood in Hausa ). Maimuna’s childhood ended prematurely when she got married at the age of 12 and had to leave school. She became pregnant straight away and her first child was born when she was only 13 years old. She regrets not having had a proper childhood and a proper education. Her wish is for all children to be able to go to school until they complete their education and only start a family life afterwards. She hopes society will change in that way.
I just painted this mural inside the “Centre Culturel Jean-Rouch”, the French-Nigerien cultural center based in Niamey, Niger. I’ve been staying here for the last 4 weeks, and have been welcomed so generously by its staff.
Jean Rouch was a French filmmaker and anthropologist who worked a lot in Niger during the 20th century. I painted this for the opening of a new exhibition on the his work called “Jean Rouch, l’aventure continue”. Thank you to Olivia Marsaud for the picture!
“I would like you to paint the word “Sabu” which means “praise be to god” in Zerma. I went to a school set up by the mission during the colonial era and I was a christan like my father. When I got married I became a muslim, but whatever I call my god, and regardless of how I pray, I’ve always thanked god for the life he’s given me. I have 5 children and 6 grandchildren and everyday I say “Sabu”. ” – Yvonne in the slum of Kombo, in Niamey, Niger.
“In my religion, “jihad” means a struggle to be a better person or a better society. In this particular case, I’m referring to the struggle we are facing to keep our neighbourhood of Kombo. There are plans of destroying our community in order to build hotels on the banks of the river. We will probably have to move to the outskirts of the city, and all be separated and will have to change the way we live. We have been fishing and growing vegetables by the river for generations and my jihad is to do everything I can to keep our neighbourhood still standing.” Karim – 16 years old
Roshenk chose the word “Kurdistan”. She came to Kawergosk Refugee Camp 4 years ago with her family from Dayrik, a city in Syrian Kurdistan, when the civil war reached the region. Roshenk misses her hometown a lot, but she also somehow feels at home here because she is still in Kurdistan. Kurdistan is a large region of the middle east that stretches across 4 countries : Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region seeking total independence. It has its own government, police and of course its own army, the Peshmerga, for who Roshenk’s husband Zakaria fights in Sinjar.
Zakaria is away on duty and Roshenk thought that having the word “Kurdistan” painted on their house would be a good surprise for him when he comes back.