Last week, the Saudi Arabian embassy in Berlin lit up with the black flag of ISIS, headed by two words: Daesh Bank. Beaming into the building for somewhere between five to ten minutes, this artistic intervention was done by the not-for-profit PixelHELPER, a group aiming to bring action art to the next level.
“We find that many issues are mentioned in the media, but the public has a short attention span,” says PixelHELPER organizer and light artist Oliver Bienkowski. “We want to make sure that these issues do not fall into the background and are forgotten.”
Since its inception in 2011, PixelHELPER has taken aim at a range of social issues, from global topics like the NSA Scandal, where Berlin’s US Embassy was lit up weekly, to more national forms of protest including alleging a German company’s involvement in the sale of arms. “We are always looking for causes to support,” says Bienkowski. “With the arrival of so many refugees to Europe, we felt that it was the perfect time to remind the media and the public that these refugees are fleeing ISIS and that countries such as Saudi Arabia are funding these terrorists.”
This time around, artistically branding Saudi Arabia as financiers of the extremist group comes at a time when the US Senate has just passed a bill allowing for the oil rich country to be sued by families affected by the 911 attacks. Saudi Arabia has strongly objected the bill, which will most likely become law, and the country’s role in financing ISIS remains contested.
Calling themselves “a guerrilla force for generating moral facts, political art, and humanitarian generosity,” PixelHELPER says their use of light projections offer temporary scrutiny to these issues. The projections are often varied, sometimes projected loudly to create more of a buzz.
“Art must trigger pain, provoke, and rebel,” says Bienkowski. “Our campaigns show the possibilities of art as the fifth power in a country. Art is therefore not a mirror of reality, but a hammer which enacts positive change.”
In the same Daesh Bank project, PixelHELPER also projected a message onto the embassy calling for Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to be released from his 10-year prison sentence. Badawi’s verdict additionally comes with the punishment of 1,000 lashes, retribution for criticizing the Saudi government in one of his blog posts. The projection, which reads, ‘10 years and 1000 slashes just for blogging #FREERAIF,' aimed to highlight Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record, reminding the world of Badawi’s ongoing imprisonment.
Despite their obtrusive tactics, and with some projects gaining more attention than others, for PixelHELPER, the ultimate goal is peace. “Attentions would be shifted to positive things like art and culture, and all of the terrible things in the world would be ignored,” says Bienkowski.