German Curator Hella Mewis, an Ardent Supporter of Iraq’s Cultural Scene, Has Been Kidnapped in Baghdad

Mewis is the head of the Tarkib art center.

Hella Mewis.
Hella Mewis.

Hella Mewis, a Berlin-born curator based in Baghdad and the head of the Tarkib art center, was kidnapped Monday evening by armed men near the organization’s building.

According to local sources, the curator was leaving her office in the center of Baghdad on her bicycle on July 20 at 8 p.m. when two cars, including a white pickup truck that is apparently used by some security forces, closed in on her.

Deutsche Welle reports that a friend of Mewis, Dhikra Sarsam, posted on social media that police officers witnessed the kidnapping but did not intervene.

“Hella expected to be kidnapped because we all expect this fate,” Sarsam wrote, adding that Mewis had been “nervous” following the killing on July 6 of Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi scholar and government advisor who has been supportive of anti-government protests. According to Sarsam’s post, Mewis had been involved in the protests as well.

According to a report in AFP, German foreign minister Heiko Maas’s department has begun looking into the case.

Mewis, who is associated with the Goethe Institute and has been living in Baghdad for many years, is an outspoken cultural activist.

She has helped organize exhibitions and workshops for emerging artists at the Tarkib art center, an organization that receives funding from French and German cultural institutions, but has no official support from the Iraqi government.

“The Iraqi society, some of them of course are conservative, but some of them are simply afraid to make a change,” she said last year in an interview with PBS. “So this is what we are trying to do—not to be afraid to make a change and other people will follow.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that abductions of foreign citizens in Iraq have been increasing significantly this year.


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