The funeral of Nour Zahra in 2012
“Ravages of War” by Hassan Alawsi
Self portrait with ID card by Felix Nussbaum (1943)
As hoards of think-tankers, journalists and academics rush to pour out their complex opinions on the Charlie Hebdo murders, as an artist, I pause to consider why I might be Charlie.
Sitting at my drawing board in my studio, the shootings touched me deeply. I felt that nobody should be killed for making art, however ugly that art might be. It’s just art. We are just artists.
Cartoonists have this week sharpened their pencils and mocked the brothers in balaclavas who stunned France with their violence. Make no mistake, we should be called to account if our art is racist or glorifies violence, just as other professions, but we should not be murdered for it.
Charlie’s creatives are not the first to die because of what they do. I have today been thinking about a Syrian graffiti artist, Nour Hatem Zahra who was murdered by Syrian forces in 2012 at the age of just 23. It is said that a bullet hit him as he sprayed the word “freedom” on a wall.
Another French artist, Bilal Bernini was killed in recent months. Despite having visited Tunisia and Libya to paint images of revolutions, it was in America that he was killed. Travelling to Detroit to paint images of the dilapidated landscape there, it appears he stumbled into the wrong part of town and was killed for being an outsider. One of the suspects was only 13 years old.
Still in America, I’ve also been thinking about Hassan Alawsi, the Iraqi artist who fled the violence of his homeland, but was shot dead last year in a Sacramento parking lot. His American assailant said he “hated people of middle-eastern descent”.
For less recent examples, I think of Victor Jara – his medium was poetry and song. He was tortured and shot dead for this by the Chilean authorities in 1973.
And going back in time further I think of Felix Nussbaum, a German surrealist artist who made pictures of what life was like under the Nazis. He was murdered at Auschwitz.
So yes, I am Charlie. I am also Nour. I am Bilal. Hassan, Victor and Felix. I need no further complex rationale or politic, other than I am a fellow creative who believes they shouldn’t have died in the way that they did.