Installation detail, Koblenz, 2020.

MUTE

2020, mixed media installation

MUTE is a response to the confluence of pandemic restrictions, and a historic court case which marked a shift in the international accountability of the Syrian regime. Its 49 figures are compiled from the clothes of artists and activists living across the Syrian diaspora. They stand in a silent, incorporeal observance of the proceedings of this landmark trial.

With the spread of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020, many countries around the world imposed measures forcing millions of people to remain at home and to adhere to the guidelines of social distancing. These measures restricted the movement of individuals, and all forms of social gathering.

For many Syrians, this surreal state of control was a vivid reminder of the restrictions under which they lived in their own country. In 2011, the Syrian regime began suppressing any gatherings or demonstrations opposing its rule. Since then, thousands of peaceful activists have been detained, tortured, or killed on account of their political opinions.

On the 23rd of April 2020, the first international criminal trial on war crimes and state torture in Syria began in Koblenz, Germany. The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz charged Anwar R. and Eyad A., two former officials of President Bashar al-Assad’s security apparatus, for crimes against humanity. The two suspected perpetrators had come to Germany a few years earlier in search of asylum, after having announced their defection from the Syrian regime.

Unfortunately, due to the health regulations imposed in Germany, the families of Syrian victims and detainees, as well as activists, were unable to attend the court proceedings. The Muted Demonstration bore witness in their place as it was exhibited for the first time on the 1st of July, 2020, in front of the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. It was placed in full view of the courtroom windows behind which the two officials were being tried. It is an uncanny placeholder for those absent due to disappearance, death, or pandemic restrictions, a reminder of the urgent need for the Syrian regime to be held accountable for its atrocities, and a confirmation of the ideals of peaceful protest with which the Syrian revolution began nine years earlier.


On the second day exhibiting in front of the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, MUTE was joined by Families for Freedom and the Caesar Families Association. Both organizations advocate for the rights of individuals who have been detained, disappeared, and tortured by the Syrian regime and other parties involved in the conflict. By sharing images of missing family members and personal histories, members of these two groups created their own testimony which could not be shared within the strict confines of the ongoing trial. For a fleeting moment, the silent demonstration was granted a face and a voice.

Photos by Adam Brromberg, Thomas Lohnes, Max Eicke, and Khaled Barakeh.