The #IamYezidi exhibition in London has now come to an end. To those who haven’t been following some of my social media posts, #IamYezidi is a photographic exhibition by humanitarian charity, Khalsa Aid, which focuses on the plight of Yezidi women in Iraq who face systematic targeting and exploitation by ISIS.
The exhibition is a narrative of the individual stories of women who have escaped slavery or have rescued their sons and daughters from ISIS captivity. The stories depict their pain, sorrow and continued struggle, but also highlight their iron like resolve and will to overcome the trauma of ISIS brutality. The stories have been captured through vivid portrait photography by award winning photojournalist, Benjamin Eagle.
This exhibition coincided with International Women’s Day 2017 and served to celebrate the inspirational fortitude and grace of the Yezidi women, despite the incredible struggles they face on a daily basis. This has sadly been something that has been largely ignored by the mainstream media.
We first launched the exhibition at the Houses of Parliament and subsequently featured in TIME magazine, Stylist and TimeOut. The exhibition was then featured at the Lacey Contemporary Gallery in London between 21st-26th March.
Why an exhibition….
It’s a fair question that some people have asked. To provide some background and context, Khalsa Aid has been providing humanitarian aid in Iraq and supporting the Yezidi community as far back as 2014. Since early 2016, Khalsa Aid has been working with local partners, The Jinda Centre in northern Iraq, specifically to provide support to women who have been rescued from ISIS control by providing:
- Monthly food and water supplies
- Clothing allowance
- Regular mental welfare support
Currently, over 400 women are being supported regularly; a mammoth project such as this is large in scale but also sensitive in its approach. The mental welfare provided is a key intervention to support these women and resume some form of normality after the shocking and brutal ordeals they have been through. I have an immense amount of respect for the team at Khalsa Aid and the Jinda Centre for doing what they do, day in day out.
Crucially, after this level of support is provided, the next ask from all of the women is that we share their story so that the Yezidi community isn’t forgotten on the international stage, and so that their experiences are heard and hopefully some form of direct intervention and support is provided by the global community.
Aside from our newsletters, campaigns to support Khalsa Aid projects and wider discussions within the humanitarian aid community, what else could we do? After some brainstorming, this is where the idea of using the arts came to play…
How do the arts support Yezidi women?
I personally believe that the Arts are a powerful medium and often-softer entry point to have discussions around topics that are sometimes difficult. Art as a form of human expression can transcend so many barriers, be it social, cultural or physical.
Therefore, by using the arts as a tool of advocacy for the Yezidi community, it is hoped that it will spark awareness and wider discussion about this often forgotten community and highlight the international support that they require. The medium of visual art, therefore, gives a voice to the voiceless and allows so many to connect with the story of another.
This is important, as the Yezidi community understand all too well; it is so crucial to share the stories of the atrocities and crimes against humanity that take place for those who are unable to themselves. And thanks to photojournalist Benjamin Eagle, we were able to appreciate some striking portrait photography that captures every single detail in the facial expressions of these remarkable women.
So what has the exhibition achieved?
I’d be extremely naïve to think that an art exhibition will directly result in Government intervention or support. But what an exhibition such as this does do is to educate and inform stakeholders, whether it’s national Government, organisations or the wider general public. This, in turn, builds a long-term narrative and serves to spark discussion and debate to effectively inform international policy. This is the ultimate goal of the exhibition.
This is exactly the reason why #IamYezidi was launched at the Houses of Parliament, thanks to MP Fiona McTaggart, to provide a direct and clear channel to Government, sharing the stories of these women without any censorship or bias.
Alongside the hardships faced by these women, the exhibition also touched on their superhuman resilience to mark International Women’s Day, which reached an international community thanks to Stylist, TIME Magazine and TimeOut to name a few.
Finally, we decided to host the exhibition to the wider public and launched this on 21st March on the New Year holiday of Newroz in the Kurdish calendar as a mark of respect and solidarity.
Whilst the exhibition comes to a close in London, there are wider global plans to share this powerful photography across the globe. After all, this isn’t just a story of the Yezidi community, but also a story of wider humanity which will go down as a dark point in history books if the global society doesn’t come together to take action…