Feb. 10, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
A large mural is going up in Astoria that pays tribute to a New York man who died while on a hunger strike in an Egyptian prison.
The artwork features a painting of Moustafa Kassem – an Egyptian-born American citizen who died while in an Egyptian jail in 2019. It is currently being painted on the side of a bodega located at 801 Astoria Blvd.
Kassem was imprisoned in 2013 after being accused of being a spy and for his alleged involvement in anti-government protests. He denied the charges and claimed he was in Egypt not to foment political unrest but to visit his family.
The mural is being put together by a team of four artists from Black Village Arts, a city-based arts group that promotes art education in the Black and Hispanic communities. The project was commissioned by the Freedom Initiative, a Washington DC-based human rights organization that advocates for political prisoners in the Arab world.
The artwork, when complete, will depict Kassem in the clouds looking down on several activists. A banner overhead will read “One Struggle, Many Faces,” while “Justice For Moustafa Kassem 2/11/65 – 1/13/20” will be written in a cloud below him. The painting has a blue background and the activists are wearing red, yellow and blue-colored clothing.
The painting is expected to be completed by Thursday and will be about 10 feet high and 15 feet wide. It is going up on the wall of the Eight Street Deli Mini Mart.
The artwork aims to shine a light on “prisoners of conscience” across the world who have been imprisoned because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, or political views.
The mural also draws a connection to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the Black Lives Matter movement. For example, the activists featured in the mural are holding signs like “I Can’t Breathe” and “End Gun Violence.”
Artist Brandi Jones, who is leading the team, said that Kassem’s death was “needless and avoidable.” She said that her group–in designing the mural–wanted to merge other political messages in the painting to highlight similar injustices around the world.
The artists are using a projector to sketch the outline and BEHR outdoor paint for the main body of the artwork. An official unveiling will take place on Feb. 11.
Kassem was arrested in Aug. 2013 and imprisoned for five years without any charges being filed against him. In 2018, he was charged with taking part in unlawful protests and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Shortly after his conviction, Kassem began a series of hunger strikes and appealed to former US President Donald Trump to intervene on his behalf but did not receive a response, CNN reported. It is unclear if Trump was made aware of Kassem’s plight.
Kassem, who was a diabetic, died from a heart attack on Jan. 13 having been moved to a prison medical wing for treatment for his diabetes, according to a report by the BBC. He was 54.
The Freedom Initiative said that Kassem had been severely mistreated at the hands of a brutal regime.
“Sadly, Kassem’s story — deprived of his rights and subject to medical neglect and mistreatment — is one of tens of thousands in the region and countless prisoners worldwide,” the organization said in a statement.
“This artwork is a memorial to Kassem, to honor those who face injustice anywhere to inspire all who fight on the side of freedom.”