On the UN’s World Refugee Day, June 20, 2022, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), ActionAid Denmark Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, Amnesty International Danmark, and Studio Khaled Barakeh present the exhibition MUTE in front of the Danish Parliament at Christiansborg Castle Square. And in extended cooperation with Rapolitics and Maria Projektet, MUTE will be presented on different dates and locations in Denmark:
“On World Refugee Day, 20 June 2022, and as the number of refugees worldwide reaches the tragic milestone of 100 million people, the MUTE public installation uses its silent protest to remind all who will listen: oppression and human rights violations enacted by dictatorships drive the wars, displacements, and terror that continue to force so many from their homes and safety.
As a public art installation, MUTE began as a demonstration outside the Higher Court in Koblenz, Germany, in 2020. The trial brought Syrian regime officials to justice for crimes against humanity for the first time in history. At that time, health measures related to the pandemic prevented activists and the families of Syria’s detainees and disappeared from attending the court proceedings. Barakeh took inspiration from these difficult circumstances to make Syrians’ ongoing struggle for justice visible next to the court. MUTE assembled a silent demonstration of 49 figures, dressed in the ordinary clothes of Syrian activists who were residing in diaspora. Recalling the tactics that peaceful protestors in Syria used to avoid capture by state security forces, the figures’ clothes are dark, muted colors that allow individuals to blend anonymously into crowds. Headless, they are a silent reminder of the fates of countless people across the world who live under dictatorial and totalitarian regimes and whose voices are ultimately ours.
MUTE continues the historical momentum that began in Syria when the people rose up to claim their freedom and dignity. It also reflects on the story of an abandoned people who were left to fight for freedom on their own. Beginning in 2011, the Syrian regime suppressed popular assemblies and demonstrations in ways described as barbaric, medieval, and most horrendous since the Holocaust: besieging cities and towns; shelling them with barrel bombs to inflict mass casualties; arbitrarily detaining, torturing, and killing tens of thousands of activists as well as random citizens; and not even shying away from using chemical weapons against them. And the world did not act. And so oppression continues today.
Today, we stand in solidarity with all refugees and displaced peoples globally. Asylum is not an issue restricted to any one country or continent, as the devastating plight of Ukrainians – with two million people becoming refugees in only two weeks -- has recently shown. MUTE remembers the oppression that led to the Syrians’ mass displacement, including to their current European homes. It reminds audiences that refugees are made: driven out of their homes and communities by acts of violence and persecution that the international community must act to prevent.
Finally, MUTE demands an end to the forced deportations of all refugees and vulnerable persons from Denmark or any other country. These communities endure the constant threat of being returned to countries where they face the risk of arrest, torture, or death. These threats are compounded intersectionally, as women and children in particular face distinctive forms of forced disappearance and gender-based and sexual violence. Syria is not a safe country for the return of refugees, a necessary truth that MUTE re-asserts at the heart of public space in Denmark. It takes up the creative legacy of the Syrians’ protest, and invites Danish voices to join them, in reminding governments that the right to seek asylum is sacrosanct – and that they should comply with it as they are obliged to.”
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.
Adam Broomberg, Thomas Lohnes, Max Eicke, Guevara Namer, and Khaled Barakeh.