21 August 2015
Artwork of ordinary people in IK travels to Winnipeg to tell stories of Kurdish, Yazidi, refugee situations
Young Syrian Kurdish refugees depicted life in Syria before
they left bombs and collapsed houses to find a bit of peace in Iraqi Kurdistan.
A woman from the beautiful valley of Gulan showed what life is like for the
subsistence farmers in the mountains.
These were just some of the fifty people currently living in
and near Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan who used an opportunity to show the reality
of their lives through drawing and painting. CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team member, Kathy
Moorhead Thiessen, collected the artworks and carried them in her suitcase to
Winnipeg, Canada for a six-week exhibition in spring 2016.
Ray Dirks, curator at Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery,
read an article in Canadian Mennonite magazine about Thiessen and the work of
CPT Iraqi Kurdistan. He sent her an email. “I see an exhibit which could
include 25-50 artworks created by people you interact with—could be children,
men, women, whatever works/is appropriate/is culturally and religiously
acceptable. I’d not be looking for professionally created artworks but raw
interpretations of the local situation, issues, etc.… created by ordinary
Thiessen began the search for ordinary people willing to
take the risk to share their lives in this way. Gradually word spread and
people began to accept the art supplies, promising a piece of art representing
their life in return.
The full impact of the collection became apparent as artwork
came in from groups affected by displacement as refugees and IDPs. The artist
teacher of the Syrian Kurds promoted the message that everything can be taken away,
but his ability to draw and express himself still remains.
At the STEP organisation Respite Centre, a group of
Arab working children in the Sulaimani bazaar took two hours with Thiessen to
illustrate how their lives have drastically changed in the last nine months.
All of them fled with their families from south Iraq when the Iraqi army
recaptured areas that ISIS had taken. The boys sat with their counselor and
Thiessen to describe their work in an artist statement that added to the power
of the stories they drew.
The impact of Da’ash/ISIS came out vividly in the visual
stories from four Yezidi artists Thiessen visited in their Arbat Camp tents
near Sulaimani, as they shared how their lives were devastated by the invaders.
The art showed profoundly that their thoughts continue to be with the women and
girls who are still held by the army.
The last drawings to come to the collection were from Deir
Maryam monastery where ninety internally displaced Christians from Qaraqosh
near Mosul are living. One woman began to work on a triptych and soon others
saw that their stories could be told in visual colour. They worked feverishly
to complete the drawings before the deadline. The picture of their faith being
a stronghold is very apparent.
The exhibition is still months away, but a huge amount of
the work has already been done. These pieces of art can raise the voices of the
Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, the Arabs from Salahadeen and Baghdad, the Yezidi from
Shingal and the Christians from Qaraqosh all the way across the ocean. All
these artists know what they have seen and felt. They can show the joy of
being a Kurd, and the grief of fleeing from a “good house” to live in a “bad
house.” They are able to put all this in
into art for Canadians to see, to create a way for empathy, knowledge and