I am truly honored to be joining Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative with an opportunity to uplift issues tied to my heart strings. In our pivotal moment in history for Black lives everywhere I wanted to be sure that my first Justseeds blog post and poster print (coming to the website soon to support these efforts) recognizes a fight for Black lives that connect us all beyond an ocean and the arbitrary borders.
Last summer while having the opportunity to attend the International League of People’s Struggle International Assembly in Hong Kong I learned about West Papua. The West Papuan people have been fighting for their liberation since 1965. Among many of the disheartening things happening around the world, rooted in imperialism, is the fight for West Papuan independence. Papuans have been under Indonesian occupation experiencing countless human rights violations. With a deliberate effort to target organizers, educators and journalists challenging this occupation. The Indonesian army is even using tactics to cut access to the internet or create fake news sites to further misinformation. Last August this build up was further triggered by racist remarks to Papuan students that were followed by protests gaining the movement more media attention.
Part of this movement is to free West Papua’s political prisoners. Most recently seven educators and activists were sentenced for years in prison after being charged with treason. Gaining international attention their sentence has been significantly reduced to 11 months. There is an ongoing fight to release all West Papuan Political Prisoners.
On the final day of the assembly I conversed with one of the few West Papuan representatives attending the conference. In the U.S. delegation group message thread I saw an image of a Black man face down in grass with a woman weeping over him. I tried to determine if this West Papuan man, killed in broad daylight, was any of the comrades who had left the assembly a day or two prior.
This comrade (whose identity I will not disclose for their safety) lives with a target on their back for the work they have done placing them on government and local police watch-lists. Since last summer, I continue to receive sporadic correspondence and updates from this comrade. As I learn more about the beautiful land of West Papua I feel a responsibility to share information to amplify their movement for liberation.
This Nduga region of West Papua in particular has been hard hit by Indonesian military violence, including targeting schools. As military occupation increases in part because of West Papua’s rich resources, more violence ensues increasing the number of people forced to relocate from their traditional lands. I created this poster image of Nduga IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) as they are being classified by organizers and journalists. The saying written is a common one of the struggle: “Kami Bukan Merah Putih, tetapi Kami Bintang Kejora” which means in Indonesian “We are not Red and White, We are the Morning Star”. This saying refers to denouncing the colors of the Indonesian flag and upholding the West Papuan flag that has a star. The plants throughout the background are yam leaves. Yams are a staple food as the heart of the West Papuan people and many varieties are grown there. Any profits from this print will be sent directly to support Nduga IDPs in West Papua.
My comrade hopes to finish a documentary that speaks more to the West Papuan struggle for liberation and/or have a film festival showcasing films by young Papuans. (Here is one short documentary made by young people in West Papua.) There continues to be a lot of hope for further education and resistance for the liberation of West Papua. Follow West Papua Support Network for action items and Papuan Voices on social media for further updates on the West Papuan struggle. To donate directly to Solidarity For Nduga IDP support you can transfer money to this bank account of Tim Relawan Kemanusiaan Untuk Pengunsi Nduga (Human Rights Volunteer Team for Nduga IDPs): Bank Mandiri 154-0015547676.
Natural resource extraction and anti-blackness are very much at the root of ongoing struggles around the globe. As movements are intrinsically linked I want to ensure that Black Lives Matter everywhere! Papua Merdeka! Free West Papua!
(Photos featured in this blog are from and being shared with permission but my West Papuan friend of Nduga IDPs for a solidarity event in Jakarta last year. This original blog was written on June 23, 2020 and edited by Thea Gahr and Roger Peet. Saiyare Refaei takes full responsibility for any errors.)