Curator Hella Mewis Feared for Her Safety Before Being Kidnapped in Baghdad

Hella Mewis appearing in Stamba in Baghdad, a documentary by Issam Hassan. Vimeo

On Monday evening, as-yet unidentified perpetrators carried out the kidnapping of Hella Mewis, a German national and curator who was working as the head of the Tarkib art center in Baghdad. According to reports, Mewis was apparently in the process of leaving the Tarkib offices last night at approximately 8 p.m. when a white pickup truck and another car approached and she was taken away. Additionally, according to the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, police officers in Baghdad witnessed Mewis’s kidnapping but did not intervene. The newspaper also stated that instances of kidnapping of foreign nationals living in Iraq have increased significantly in 2020.

Although Mewis is originally from Berlin, she’s lived in Baghdad since 2012, where she also acted as the cofounder of the independent artist’s group Tarkib and was affiliated with the cultural group Bait Tarkib. She’s also worked with the non-profit German organization Goethe Institute in the past, and has outwardly expressed ideas about how Iraqi society could use improvement. “The government doesn’t care at all about the young generation and art especially,” Mewis told PBS in 2019. “Culture, no, nothing. Grants like we have in Europe so we have grants for the young generation, grants for cultural institutions, here is nothing.”

Protests and turmoil surrounding the right to practice free speech in Iraq have also been ongoing all summer as citizens have pushed back against the local government’s actions. This environment has led to many individuals fearing for their safety, especially after the recent murder of Hisham al-Hashemi, a prominent Iraqi scholar and commentator on jihadi groups who was shot dead in front of his Baghdad home on July 6. Dhikra Sarsam, a friend of Hella Mewis, told the news outlet AFP that the curator had been nervous leading up to her sudden disappearance. “I spoke to [Mewis] last week and she was really involved in the protests too, so she was nervous after [al-Hashemi’s] assassination,” Sarsam said. “Hella expected to be kidnapped because we all expect this fate,” Sarsam added via social media.

Curator Hella Mewis Feared for Her Safety Before Being Kidnapped in Baghdad