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  • Ariel Wills RISD MFA ‘24

Drawing the Splinters

Liri, Daniela, Karina, and Agam.

Reading and listening to testimony from the war and Jewish history, harrowing stories of blood and violence are pervasive. As I see them my heart splinters into thousands of pieces. I pick these pieces up and pin them on the wall in my studio. My heart is fractured into pieces not because it is ruined, but because it is resilient—it has fragmented to accommodate the myriad of voices and souls who are screaming and heartbroken. I look at these fragments of my heart, pinned on the wall, and I know I need to translate these pieces so other people can see them too. 

I think of each piece of identity as a speculative parallel history. Each person is an entire universe. As I observe the fragments I am pulled to dip my brush into ink. Slowly, I trace the contours of their memories, each line and curve placed with deliberation and care. Is drawing a way to honor and sustain those who are absent? Who are they? Who would they have been? I look at this photo and am shocked and nauseated by the contemporary relevance. These are people who would have understood something about what is happening today. 

I’m on a delicate mission to rescue, excavate, and piece together stories of the hostages and the victims of war, to prevent them from being crushed between the headlines and the propaganda campaigns. Tikkun olam. To draw requires time, focus, and peace, three things that the captives don’t have the safety to experience. For this reason, too, I illustrate them and give their portraits the time and care they so very much deserve. This is Liri Albag. She was taken hostage on the 7th of October, and she is now 19.

The Liri on the left was painted from a reference photo from before the 7th, and the Liri on the right is based on a photo of her taken in captivity in Gaza. Liri’s father, Eli Albag, was quoted by BBC News:

"All the family's broken, she has two sisters and a young brother, and from 7 October we are not living. I wake up in the morning alive and go to sleep dead. Each day. This is what's happened to us, no day no night."

My mind has dwelled on the horrors reported from the released hostages and imagines the endless duration of suffering, still right now, of the people in captivity.

Each person is a whole world. Drawing can be a small way to honor their suffering and heartbreak—and to keep their stories visible—so no one can forget. 

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