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19-06-20

Mural of Change: The story behind the mural

The Mural of Change, a vibrant 15 meter high graffiti mural depicting the portraits of three human rights defenders, is the newest landmark in The Hague, Netherlands. Portrayed are young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, late Honduran indigenous and environmental defender Berta Cáceres, and late Georgian human rights defender Vitali Safarov. With incredible colours of green and pink, the use of double exposure, and detailed portraits, the Mural of Change is a new symbol of hope and inspiration in a city dedicated to Peace and Justice. 

The mural, created by graffiti-art duo Karski & Beyond and in collaboration with human rights organisation Justice and Peace Netherlands and The Hague University of Applied Sciences, came to realisation in early May 2020.  The mural was made to bring awareness to human rights and environmental action, pay tribute to all those around the world defending and standing up for the freedoms of others and values of equality, fairness, a healthy environment, peace, and calls on everyone to realise our responsibility to incite change and take action for a more just and sustainable world. 

Greta Thunberg, Berta Cáceres and Vitali Safarov are inspiring examples that show through their work that it is possible to make a difference for a just and sustainable world. The mural intends to inspire people to follow the example of these icons and dedicate themselves in their own way to positive change. “No one is too small to make a difference” (Greta Thunberg). 

From chance to idea

The creation of the mural has been a project that has developed over the years together with human rights organisation Justice and Peace Netherlands and graffiti-artist duo, Karski & Beyond. It began when a recipient of Justice and Peace’s Shelter City initiative to support human rights defenders at risk was photographed in front of one of Karski & Beyond’s walls in The Hague. From there, an idea flourished. 

Photo of Tomy, a Honduran human rights defender and former Shelter City guest, taken in front of a graffiti mural in The Hague by Karski & Beyond. Photo by photographer Daniella van Bergen for the Shelter City Exhibition: Portraits of Human Rights Defenders.

During Tomy’s stay in Shelter City in 2016, she was photographed in front of one of Karski & Beyond’s impressive graffiti murals in Laakweg in The Hague as part of an exhibition by Justice and Peace and photographer Daniella van Bergen. Karski & Beyond, who are no stranger to storytelling through art and have been creating murals together since 2012, know well the impact their work has had on the communities their work is in and on those that see it. Not long after, Justice and Peace and Karski & Beyond became connected and quickly an idea to collaborate on a mural in The Hague was born. 

“We want a story on our walls that touches people and makes them think. We hope that all people who look up at our painting realise that they too can do something for the world.” – Karski & Beyond

Involving youth 

While a collaboration was made between the artists and Justice and Peace, a wall in The Hague was needed for such a mural. For Justice and Peace, it was without a doubt that the building of The Hague University of Applied Sciences (De Haagse Hogeschool), an institution dedicated to teaching its students to become conscious world citizens, would be the perfect match. Justice and Peace and The Hague University of Applied Sciences have collaborated together in the past, such as with the annual Martin Luther King Lecture. 

This collaboration made what was to be portrayed on the wall even more important. In early 2019, a brainstorm was held with the students, the artists, and Justice and Peace to come up with an idea for the mural. What came out of the meeting was clear – we need to focus on environmental action and its defenders.

“If we don’t have a planet we can live on, it makes no sense.” – Student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences

From there, the artists used the students ideas to create a design that portrayed climate activist, Greta Thunberg, indigenous and environmental defender, Berta Cáceres, and human rights defender, Vitali Safarov. For the students, Greta represented the power of youth movements around the world for climate action but also for other important social issues. 

Why now?

The mural was unveiled in May 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. These unprecendented times gave all the more reason to unveil an important statement and call to action.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put restrictions on the freedoms of many of us during this time. It has led to different realisations, including on the importance of freedom and a healthy living environment, not only for ourselves but also for others. It has been a magnifying glass on the problems that already existed and those that were not yet seen. A general awareness is also growing that we can no longer continue in the old way, and that together, we can shape change for a more sustainable and just world.”

Human rights defenders are also increasingly affected during these times of COVID-19. It is important that we show solidarity and support grassroots HRDs in their work, and join them by taking action in our own communities. Read more about the situation of HRDs during COVID-19 and ways you can support them here. 

A call to action

“Will we go back to the how our ways were, or will we use this experience to make a change for a more sustainable future?”

The mural is a call to everyone to continue the legacies of these human rights defenders portrayed and to, in your own way, contribute to making a difference big or small in your community. This change is for just and equal societies, but also change and action for the environment, for our nature and ecosystems, to stop the overexploitation of resources, to plan sustainably, and to ensure that human rights and the environment go hand in hand.

Do you want to read more about the Mural of Change, and those portrayed? Click here.