The Artists Behind the ‘Kidnapped’ Posters Plastered Around the World

Images of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas terrorists during the October 7 attacks have become not only historical artifacts but also potent symbols of hope.

When 1,400 Israelis were tortured, raped and killed and more than 200 others were taken hostage by Hamas earlier this month, Israeli artists Dede Bandaid and Nitzan Mintz, who were in New York for a three-month-long residency program, immediately felt like they had to take action.

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A wall of missing person posters in central Paris on October 17. Photo by Kiran RIDLEY / AFP

“We were so far from home and felt helpless but wanted to do something to bring awareness and talk about what happened to make the world understand that these were real people who got kidnapped,” Bandaid, a Tel-Aviv based, urban narrative artist, told Observer. “Then we came across this iconic image of a missing person on a milk carton.”

The concept felt right, but there was no way to quickly create and distribute thousands of milk cartons emblazoned with the names and faces of the hostages. So Bandaid and Mintz repurposed the idea to create posters designed with the same look and feel, which they then produced in conjunction with Tal Huber and Shira Gershoni, graphic designers in Israel.

SEE ALSO: Israel’s Tel Aviv Museum of Art Has Stripped Its Walls Once Again

They intended to hang the first run of the Kidnapped posters, which are visually arresting thanks to the colors and fonts chosen and bear an eerie resemblance to the missing children milk cartons from the 1980s, in New York. But it wasn’t long before they started appearing on the streets of Berlin, Buenos Aires, Lisbon and other cities.

Kidnapped posters in London. Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP

“The same day we printed 2,000 copies, we walked with a box filled with them and tried to put as many up as possible everywhere,” remembers Bandaid. “We started working from Central Park to Lower Manhattan the first day and, on the way, we handed posters to people and asked them to put them up in their neighborhoods.”

Within a day or two, the posters were suddenly everywhere—both in New York City and elsewhere—prompting many to wonder where they came from. They seemed to have appeared out of thin air, overnight. Fast-forward two weeks, and people from around the world were reaching out to Bandaid and Mintz about accessing the images and creating distribution strategies.

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan And Pop Star Noa Kirel Meet With Families Of Hostages Kidnapped By Hamas
The posters were given to officials at the United Nations during the October 13 meeting. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images

The project, which remains unfunded, has taken on a life of its own in more ways than one. No official list of the Israeli hostages has been released, so Bandaid and Mintz have relied on word of mouth to create the posters. People call, email or message to ask them to create posters for their missing loved ones, which the artists post on a website where anyone can download and print the posters.

“It was so sad,” Bandaid said, “and the list keeps growing.”

As of publication, there are seventy-seven posters on the site—each with a photo of the missing person alongside their name, age and a description of what likely happened to them on that unfathomable day. The hostages range in age from 3 months to 85 years old. Paradoxically, even as the project has become, as the official website puts it, “one of the most widespread guerilla public artworks in history,” its success has revealed the public’s divided feelings about this dark historical moment.

Almost as quickly as the first posters went up in New York City neighborhoods, cameras caught people forcefully tearing them down, perhaps as a way to declare allegiance to one camp over the other in a highly public war. Yet there’s no denying that Hamas is a globally recognized terrorist organization and that the majority of those taken hostage were civilians. To add another layer of complexity to the intent behind the vandalism of the missing person posters, some hostages were American and German citizens.

Posters In Berlin Highlight Plight Of Gaza Hostages
Posters in Berlin. Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

“When people tear down a piece of paper, they think in their minds that they are tearing down Israel: the country, the entity,” Mintz, a visual poet based in Tel Aviv, theorized. “That is absolutely not the case. People need to remember, if they have any dignity as human beings, that these babies are being kept in insane conditions G-d knows where… and they are ripping faces from a paper.”

“It’s not human to tear them down,” echoed Bandaid. “The posters feature photos of babies and elderly people, among others. How can you tear them down? It goes beyond the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

But Bandaid and Mintz are quick to point out that they are not operating as a political organization. “Nobody here is a politician or supported by any institution,” Bandaid said matter-of-factly. “This is only a humanitarian effort and an act of art that can hopefully grow enough and put pressure on the politicians and the people who negotiate and can push the right buttons to [achieve] freedom.”

Whether that hope will be realized remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: when historians eventually analyze this particular moment in time, Bandaid and Mintz’s Kidnapped project will provide first-hand visual clues about both the expansiveness of human empathy and the depths of human hate.

The Artists Behind the ‘Kidnapped’ Posters Plastered Around the World