Girl painting in dark colors to signify her painful experiences.
By Svend Løbner 24 Nov 2021 |

Art Therapist: Yazidi women paintings act as truthful witnesses of unimaginable abuse

Paintings by women from the Yazidi minority speak clearly about grief, pain and suffering, says an art therapist with experience from the aftermath of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

- When confronted with these expressive paintings, everyone can see what is going on - even without background knowledge. The artistic language is an incredible, powerful witness of truth, and the creative processes behind these beautiful paintings are healing processes that for each individual carry on the true narrative.

This is what Kis Henriksen, pedagogical specialist, art therapist and author of several books about, among others, therapy for survivors of the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s has said. She has seen a selection of paintings by women from the Yazidi minority in Iraq - paintings that have been created as part of trauma treatment at Mission East's civic centers in the Yazidi capital Sinjar.

Killed, raped or sold as sex slaves

The Yazidis are victims of genocide: In 2014, the terrorist movement Islamic State moved like a scourge across Syria and Iraq to annihilate anyone who did not adhere to their rigid interpretation of Islam. In Sinjar, they persecuted the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority and executed the men, raped the women and abducted young girls to slave markets in Mosul. Thousands fled up Mount Sinjar, where Mission East has since provided relief to the survivors.

At two civic centers in Sinjar, children, young people and women can receive so-called psychosocial support, acquire school knowledge and learn a craft. This is where girls and women who have been abused can draw and paint as part of the support process.

Unique, powerful expression

- The Yazidi paintings drawn by the Iraqi women who have been persecuted, abused and sold as sex slaves are some unique, powerful expressions of landmark and transcendental experiences in the individual's life and the internal impact that the experiences have caused the individual. The paintings speak their very own clear language, says Kis Henriksen.

Despite different craftsmanship, all paintings speak what the heart is full of, she says.

- All Yazidi paintings tell both concretely and symbolically about the individual's grief, pain and suffering. No one who is confronted with these expressions can doubt that something violent has been going on here.

Et maleri viser en kvinde i et fuglebur.

Stiffened, repulsive, anxious

Several paintings express bodies in various awkward situations - bodies trapped inside like birds in cages, bodies hung, bodies separated from heads, bodies laid on the fire, and bodies eaten with skin and hair.

There are faces looking straight at you with a repulsive hand or a large written "STOP!". The expression of other paintings leads the mind to the proverbial three wise monkeys: "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil".

- The statement represents several possibilities, but in this connection it could be caution associated with anxiety in relation to not letting one's emotional world be expressed too clearly, says Kis Henriksen and mentions the painting of a woman whose face appears as a stiffened mask.

Unique opportunity and invaluable help

- There will be some things that the women may neither remember nor hear about, and not talk about at all, because it is too difficult and associated with re-experiencing a trauma and therefore arouses great anxiety and pain. But when the artistic media is used as the language that can replace speech, then the experiences unfold and the individual is both seen and heard.

- To tell one's story and control what is to emerge in the self-directed creative process, gives the opportunity to gain new insights about oneself and one's situation. Workshops for women with trauma of this nature are a unique opportunity and invaluable help for traumatized women, concludes Kis Henriksen.