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Flag of hope

By Tiarnán Ó Muilleoir

A WEST Belfast artist is set to travel to the Western Sahara as part of an international arts exchange aimed at raising awareness of an ongoing humanitarian crisis there.
Raymond Watson will travel to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SARD) to conduct art workshops with refugees in November. He has been invited there by the organisers of ARTifariti, an international arts festival organised by the Sahrawi Government and based in the town of Tifariti.
The SARD is a government-in-exile led by the Polisario Front, a former guerrilla organisation laying claim to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony currently under Moroccan jurisdiction but subject to contested territorial claims.
The theme of this year’s Artifariti festival is, ‘Remove the Wall’. This refers to the biggest ‘peace wall’ in the world, over 2,700km long and consisting of stone, sand and barbed wire – it’s home to the biggest landmine field on the planet. The wall divides families, prevents the free movement of the Bedouin nomads and cuts the Sahrawi people from the resources in the west of their country.
The organisers of the festival see the wall as a “barrier of shame” and the removal of it has become a symbol for the removal of the other divisive walls that exist across the globe, including Raymond’s home town of Belfast. Raymond will work in the refugee camps for 10 days and is keen to apply his own experience of conflict to the artistic project.
“In 2011, I implemented what has been called the biggest community art exhibition ever seen in Belfast with the Belfast Flags of Hope,” he said.
“More than 10,000 individual paintings were displayed bunting-style along the Belfast peace wall. Each painting was an individual expression of hope created by local people, young and old. While in Western Sahara I will conduct a similar project with the Sahrawi people in the frontline town Tifariti.
“Walls of this nature are similar in any part of the world, they symbolise the failure of society and we hope to use art as a means of expressing people’s desire for hope and a more successful society.”
The Sahrawi community have few resources. In an effort to raise funds toward the cost of art materials for the Sahara project some of the original and surviving flags from the 2011 Belfast Flags project are being framed, signed and sold.

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