How my holiday photo became a symbol and ended up next to Banksy
“Content spreads in unpredictable ways”
On Boxing Day in 2008, during one of my travels, I was walking with my friend Josselien along the Dominical beach in Costa Rica. The atmosphere was peaceful, the people relaxed and the temperature pleasant. The sun was slowly setting and the beach-goers were preparing to eat. Locals were sat on their car bonnets with cool-boxes full of bottles of Corona and Imperial at their feet. Along the coast, some children were kicking a ball around. Carefree. Josselien did not have her camera with her, but I did. She pointed out two children to me, playing football in the water. I took a snapshot.
Five and a half years later, on the 9th July 2014 and a linear distance of 7,526 miles from Costa Rica, four Palestinian cousins were playing football on the Mediterranean coast. Their parents had told them not to leave the house, because outside was dangerous. The beach was already completely forbidden territory. After nine days, the boys could not endure any more and decided to disobey their parents. They ran past the colourful parasols along the beach and there they kicked a ball around. Innocent.
The outcome is still ingrained in my memory. An Israeli warship fired a bomb onto the beach. One of the children was directly and fatally hit, the other three got away. But a second bomb put an end to the young boys’ lives. The photos of Ahed Atef Bakr, Zakaria Ahed Bakr, Mohamed Ramez Bakr and Ismael Mohamed Bakr taken just after the terrible event have travelled around the world.
An artist makes a tribute
The young fisher boys unintentionally became a symbol of the brutality and continuous violence from Israel against the Palestinian civilians, who live at the west coast like rats in a trap. This also moved the Israeli artist Amir Schiby, famous for his political satire cartoons. As a tribute, he published a photo of four football playing silhouettes of children on the beach, a reworked version of my holiday snap. One resident of Tel Aviv writes about seeing the photo, “Couldn’t watch the original picture cause they’re so horrifying, but this one carries as much emotional impact.” In contrast with photos which show just after the deadly effects, the reflective shadows of the children seem to radiate. The girl and boy from Costa Rica have gone out to the entire world as four Palestinian boys.
Couldn’t watch the original picture cause they’re so horrifying, but this one carries as much emotional impact.
Banksy displayed my photo
Shortly after Schiby’s famous photo went out across the globe. The Huffington Post wrote: “Heartbreaking Tribute To Four Boys Killed On Gaza Beach Created By Israeli Artist Amir Schiby”.
One year later, the street-artist Banksy opened Dismaland, a ‘sinister version of Disneyland.’ In this art project in the form of a theme park, hung the works of other artists such as Damien Hirst and Pure Evil. The theme park was livened up by performances from artists like Damon Albarn and Pussy Riot. Schiby also contributed to the project, with, you’ve guessed it, the re-working of my photo. The most important detail is that a Palestinian artist caused a commotion with his exhibit. When he found out that there was also work to see by Israeli artists, he was furious and put a sheet with the words, ‘R.I.P Gaza: Boycott Israel over his own work. He was removed from the site, perhaps unaware of the statement of Schiby. Banksy himself does not shy away from political statements, considering his work in Gaza.
(Continue reading after the next images)
26,000 people and one quilt
In 2017 I was emailed by a woman from New Zealand, living in Saudi-Arabia. Her name is Allison Rice-Korban. The violence in the Gaza strip affected her deeply and with sons of the same age, who also enjoy playing football, she was left with an unpleasant feeling. In Saudi-Arabia, football is incidentally a popular sport and the horrible event on the coast was three days after the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina.
Allison is a ‘quilter,’ or someone who makes blankets. A good friend (a prize-winning ‘quilter’) had helped the reworking of the football-playing children to transform it into a quilt. Sadly, this friend suddenly died. Allison wanted to finish the quilt and dedicate it to both the Bakr-cousins and her friend. Her question to me was whether she could use the photo, so I agreed.
In August 2017, her version of my photo, named ‘Collateral Damage’, was displayed in The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. About 26,000 people from around the world visited this festival.
The memory of the Palestinian boys remains thanks to artists who have been inspired by my holiday photo.
Should you want to use my photo for the purpose of commemorating these young boys or bringing attention to Israel’s suppression of Palestine, please contact me.
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Thanks to Josselien❤ for pointing out the children to me on the beach.
Thanks to Gonnie Been and Alice Learmouth for translating this blogpost.
Thanks to Ronald Klootwijk for your offer to translate.
Thanks to Allison for sharing your story with me.
Read this article in Dutch.