By Svend Løbner 4 Feb 2022 |

Yazidi paintings show women's struggle for dignity

- It touches me deeply that the Yazidi women say stop the abuse. And that they have found dignity. This is what visual artist Karsten Auerbach says after seeing paintings by Yazidis during trauma treatment in Iraq.

- It touches me deeply to see that these women have come to a point where they can say stop. The Islamists may have destroyed their city, their culture and their lives, but now they will not accept this destruction any more. They have been beaten, have gone through lots of sufferings, and now they are saying no to that kind og a life despite the risk that this may also become part of their future.

This Karsten Auerbach spontaneously exclaims when he is sent a file with 16 paintings, made by Yazidi women who are recovering from abuse and rape by Islamic State fighters, when they captured the Yazidi capital Sinjar, killed men, raped women and abducted young girls as sex slaves.

Gets concept of horrible experiences

Many of the women cannot express the horrible experiences with words; but by painting what they remember and feel, they still get to conceptualize atrocities that are hard to imagine.

- It is strong to experience women who in the midst of inequality and social control have found a place in themselves where they have opted out of the patriarchal norm to be able to endure living as the women they are. I also see in the paintings that they have arrived at a dignity that makes them not let themselves be dragged down, says Karsten Auerbach.

"The art of painting oneself out of a corner"

And he knows what he's talking about after a year with psychiatric patients at Odense University Hospital in Denmark, where he spearheaded the project "The art of painting oneself out of a corner". By painting with the patients, they manage to cope with their difficult feelings and they see hope for the bright sides of life.

Just like many of the Yazidi women experience at Mission East's community center in Sinjar, where they receive art therapy, participate in counseling groups and are trained to start and run companies so that they can support themselves and their children.

Symbolic body-language makes an impression

- Some of the women are very talented artistically, but all use a symbolic language that is very strong, says Karsten Auerbach. - The viewer feels the violence, the evil, the brutality. Women in cages, tied, chained, all testify that the brutality is self-experienced, he adds.

Mission East has started a traveling exhibition with the Yazidi paintings in different parts of Copenhagen: first in Hellerup, then Vesterbro, and in March they will be shown in Humlebæk.