Birmingham artist lashes back as police ‘probe’ into Palestine mural unveiled in Kings Heath
West Midlands Police have allegedly been in talks with the owners of a business on whose wall a Palestinian solidarity mural was painted last Monday (May 17).
Award-winning Birmingham based artist Mohammed Ali has raised concerns about the unwelcome police attention to his art and shared his thoughts on his social media page.
The new mural by Ali – which depicts social rights activist Malcolm X’s visit to Smethwick and a show of solidarity with the people of Palestine – graces the wall of Art Rooms Kings Heath, situated on High Street in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham.
The art venue describes itself as a centre that offers “a local creative space in the heart of Kings Heath that welcomes art, performance, workshop space and ideas”.
Art Rooms, whose management gave permission for the new mural to be painted on their building’s wall, highlighted the work as “a poignant nod from the past to the world we are currently living in”.
However, despite the positive response from the public, it appears the police have taken issue with the mural. Mohammed ‘Aerosol Arabic’ Ali revealed the premises had been visited by police officers in relation to the fresh artwork painted on the side of the building.
As the situation between Israel and the people of Gaza continues to remain in a serious condition despite a ceasefire, and with over 200 Palestinians dead, including many children, and around 2,000 people wounded; artist Ali has said his new art in Kings Heath shows solidarity with the besieged people, throwing a spotlight on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has resulted in worldwide protests, including in Birmingham.
The new mural has been received positively both by local residents and by the online community, where Ali’s post about his solidarity art has garnered hundreds of ‘likes’ and shares on social media.
Despite this, the street art hasn’t gone unnoticed by law officials. Sharing the news about the controversial police visit on Twitter and Facebook, Ali wrote: “The art has already had West Midlands Police sniffing around it and enquiring to a local business as to what they thought of it due to its political nature.
“This is nothing new. They tried this with all of my Palestine themed art going back over a decade.
“Nothing has changed, and part of typical scare-mongering approach. Unless there are complaints, which there never was, please move along officers there is nothing to see here.”
In his response, Ali referenced the unwanted police attention he received while he was painting a ‘Free Gaza’ mural on the corner of Coventry Road and Muntz Street in Small Heath back in 2009.
The incident saw a team of officers arrive at the location to confront Ali as he was painting the mural on the side of a business which had similarly given permission for the art to be painted on its wall.
Revisiting the confrontation, Ali wrote, “Not one of them but four of them turned up. They didn’t have a leg to stand on. They approached the building owner to ask if I had permission to paint such a mural.
“Speaking truth about Palestine is never easy. But it’s a duty. However unpopular.
“I painted the ‘Free Gaza’ mural in Small Heath, Birmingham, back in 2009 in solidarity with the people of Gaza when they were being bombed by Israel.”
“There had been attempts to remove it by the police with warnings to the building owner that there is a risk of attacks on his building because of it. Quite laughable really. It’s been 12 years and the art still stands albeit a bit faded.”
Talking about the impact of the solidarity art on the local community, Ali wrote: “I know it’s a source of pride for many and that’s what counts. If it helped educate, inform and remind about the plight of the Palestinians then I’m content.
“The community feeling still remains strong in support of Palestine.”
Another one of Ali’s Palestine solidarity artworks, in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham, also received a visit by the police in 2009.
The mural was shockingly sandblasted and removed by Birmingham City Council after police allegedly made a ‘risk assessment’ and warned the elderly owner of the property, where Ali had been given permission to paint, that there might be a petrol bomb attack due to the nature of the ‘Free Gaza’ mural.
More recently, Ali’s tribute piece entitled ‘I Can’t Breathe’, which highlighted the brutal racist murder of American black man George Floyd by a white police officer, also came under the spotlight of the authorities last year.
The art, and artist, received a lightning fast response from both West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council as Ali found himself surrounded by police officers who questioned him as he continued to paint the tribute on a wall in Silver Street, Kings Heath last June.
The art was then removed by a council worker hours only after it was painted despite Ali having been granted full permission of the premise owners to paint on the wall.
But after Ali contacted Birmingham City Council, an apology was issued and the work was later repainted by the artist, with a protective glass cover placed over the stencilled mural.
Speaking exclusively to I Am Birmingham, Ali said it was his right to share views highlighting the power of art to challenge deep rooted social issues such as injustice and racism.
“We all know the saying ‘a picture says a thousand words’. I’d add that ‘a picture can present ideas that people cannot do so through words’. That is the power of art beyond it being just eye candy.
“When we have reports that deny institutional racism and schools silencing children in regards to human rights causes, it’s time to amp up our efforts as artists and respond.”