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Mural of Brittney Griner, other detained Americans unveiled in Georgetown

A new mural in Georgetown features Brittney Griner and other Americans detained abroad. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

A larger-than-life, black-and-white image of Brittney Griner, the WNBA and Team USA star, is part of a new mural that depicts Americans detained around the world.

On Wednesday in Georgetown, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign unveiled the project, which highlights 18 U.S. citizens who are detained by foreign governments. The project, designed by Ottumwa, Iowa, artist Isaac Campbell, spans the length of an alley off M Street NW near Wisconsin Avenue.

At the entrance of the alley is Griner, pictured with a soft smile meant to draw the viewer’s eye to the rest of the work. Wednesday marked 153 days that she has been detained in Russia on drug charges. The State Department said in May that the U.S. government considers Griner wrongfully detained.

The unveiling came a day after President Biden signed an executive order declaring “hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of United States nationals and other persons abroad” a national emergency.

“I can never just see Brittney anymore,” Campbell said of the basketball star’s image being included with other detainees. The artist, 30, had been working on the project alongside the detainees’ families for about three months from his Iowa studio, but he first laid eyes on his wall canvas when he arrived in Washington on Sunday. That Griner’s smile and gaze are directed toward the rest of the group is by design, he said.

“I hope that the world will see them as a collective rather than just as individuals,” he added.

No members of Griner’s family attended the unveiling — they were set to be honored at the ESPY awards in Los Angeles on Wednesday night — but the WNBA still made its presence felt. In town to play the Washington Mystics on Thursday, New York Liberty Coach Sandy Brondello and players Stefanie Dolson, Rebecca Allen, Sami Whitcomb, Jocelyn Willoughby and Marine Johannes were in attendance and stood with the families of the detainees.

The detainees’ families spent 11 hours Tuesday helping Campbell place the images on the wall. The Mystics’ Natasha Cloud and Elizabeth Williams were there to lend a hand.

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“It’s unfortunate because [Griner] never should have been detained in the first place,” Bring Our Families Home Campaign spokesman Jonathan Franks said. “But there’s no question in my mind her detention has been game-changing for this issue and it’s raised the profile.”

Speakers at the unveiling included Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger D. Carstens and Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.), whose constituent, businessman Kai Li, has been detained by the Chinese government since 2016 on charges of espionage. Every family present was allowed to speak, including Roger Rusesabagina; his father, Paul, was the subject of the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” which explored the 1994 genocide in the country.

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Paul Rusesabagina, a U.S. citizen, has been detained in the Rwandan capital of Kigali since August 2020 on terrorism charges that his lawyers say stem from his opposition to the government of President Paul Kagame. Rusesabagina’s image bookends the mural, on the other side of the wall from Griner’s.

“Why we have this mural here is just to keep [Paul’s] name in the news and everyone’s name in the news … so that we can hopefully get our government officials and government to act and get everyone home,” Roger Rusesabagina said.