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The Power of Spray Paint used in Conflict

Image 1: An ISIS symbol for Christian re-appropriated after conflict within a displacement camp in the Nineveh Governorate

When I was last in Mosul (2019), I encountered a group of people that have taken ownership of a symbol spayed on their front door by ISIS. This symbol told that the inhabitants were Christian or that the property was owned by a Christian. Post conflict some Christians are using the symbol proudly as a mark of resilience..

Location: Mosul & Tal Afer

Narrative: Local people and their communities have a mixed impression with regard to local markings, signs and symbols of conflict, or as some refer to as conflict graffiti. Despite the mixed responses locally, all of these marks are obviously remnants of past violence, a context in which these signs and symbols were painted, encountered, read and acknowledged everyday.

There are the ISIS written signs and symbols that identify buildings once owned by Christians or other faiths, areas which are off limits, statements of faith and obedience, warnings and whether streets are clear of technologies or communication devices. (Images of these examples can be found at the bottom of the page) These are symbols or signs that remind me of the faces of characters on store advertising boards which were painted over by the stores proprietors, probably either in a gesture of compliance or instruction to do so by local 'al Husba' (religious police). Whatever the reason or the origin there is evidence of political marking everywhere in Mosul and Tal Afer. Many of which are slowly disappearing under a coat of new paint.

Similarly, there are signs in the images below, that mark the fact that “ISIS was killed here” written in green by the liberating forces. During my field visit they were identified with apparent importance by members of the local community, as if they were the symbolic evidence of ISIS and its demise that I wanted to see.

Impact: These signs and symbols, although not a physical ‘place or a space’ imbued with memories of violence directly, they are a constant or repetitive indirect reminder (hidden under pain or not) of the suffering and social divisions still experienced in the cities like Mosul and Tal Afer.

Therefore, marks like these consciously or subconsciously reconstitute the locals’ sense of place and identity. Thus creating a layer of narrative in the built environment full of the local complexities of meaning and memory, which community members will continually process and can’t help but allow to influence their daily feelings, emotions and temperament.

For a post conflict community, their sense of place has fundamentally changed. Many of these once familiar buildings which subtly reinforced a sense of place and belonging, now reflect traumatic meaning, and represent a complicated and contrasting set of post-conflict emotions.

For those living in post-conflict communities, and depending on their affiliation during the past violence, these signs and symbols will echo a very different meaning and hold a very different set of memories; they could be quietly feared and reviled by some or respected, welcomed and even loved by others.

Image2: ISIS signage explaining that anyone caught inside this building will be punished or killed

Image 3: ISIS graphic indicating that this area / street has been cleared / done ….. Regarding removal of satellite and other contraband

Image 4: ISIS writing stating that this was a Christian property, which is now the property of ISIS

Image 5: A location marked by ISIS to explain that in this property a satellite was found

Image 6: Writing by Iraqi armed forces on the wall of a building stating that this is ‘cemetery of ISIS’

Image 7: Writing by Iraqi armed forces on the wall of a building stating that this is ‘cemetery of ISIS’

Image 8: Writing by Iraqi armed forces on the wall of a building stating that this is ‘cemetery of ISIS’

Image 9: Shop front with characters with their faces spray-painted out in accordance with ISIS rule of law which banned any faces from being represented in pictures.


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