Home Digital art New digital art archive launched to help Yazidi community rebuild after genocide

New digital art archive launched to help Yazidi community rebuild after genocide


The traditions and art of Yazidi Genocide women survivors have been collected in an archive group, hosted by the United Nations (UN) on the Google Arts & Culture platform. The fruit of a year-long series of workshops in northern Iraq, the Yazidi cultural archives are not simply aimed at documenting the traditions of the small ethnic minority. Basically, they address the mental health crisis currently plaguing the Yazidi community, which has manifested in high rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide.

The Yazidi Cultural Archive is launched today at the headquarters of Iraq-based NGO Yazda, a lead partner in the project, in Duhok, Iraq, and at the Institut du monde arabe in Paris. Available in English and Arabic, they include four permanent online exhibitions of works, photographs and films created by 16 Yazidi survivors.

In 2014, Yazidis living in Iraq were targeted by the Islamic State, in what the UN and other governments have recognized as genocide. According to the UN, in August 2014, Isis killed 5,000 Yazidi men and abducted 7,000 Yazidi women and girls. About 50% of the Yazidi community has been displaced, about 360,000 people in total. Around 200,000 Yazidis remain in camps today.

The NGO Yazda organized painting and photography workshops for women survivors; their art has been used to create four permanent online exhibitions © Yazidi Cultural Archives

“The project builds on research conducted in post-genocide Rwanda, which found that archiving plays a role in restoring mental health,” says George Richards, director of Community Jameel, one of the project’s partners. initiative.

“Where the community feels their cultural identity is in danger and then experiences something as traumatic and devastating as genocide, archiving their heritage offers recognition of their cultural identity. And that in itself helps to strengthen the community’s post-genocide recovery, because they know they are seen, as it seems these days.

The project was spearheaded by Yazda in collaboration with Community Jameel, the UN, and arts organization Culturunners. Additional support and guidance was provided by WHO’s Arts & Health programme, Open Mind Project and the NGO Nobody’s Listening. Yazda held workshops for women survivors from 2021 to 2022, during which women produced paintings and photographs reflecting the event.

© Yazidi Cultural Archives

Survival strategies

Other archived cultural forms reveal survival strategies during war. Tattooing, for example, was once a traditional practice among Yazidis, but its popularity was declining. But during the takeover, many young women began tattooing themselves, hoping it would make them less likely to be taken into captivity, as tattooing is haraam (forbidden) in Isis’ strict interpretation of Islam. “Instead of tattooing themselves with the traditional designs, they tattooed themselves with the dates they were taken, or the names of villages that had been destroyed, or the names of male relatives who had been killed,” says Richards.

“So the tattoo took on this new meaning for the Yazidi community. He had this very real, almost defensive purpose in captivity. So in this case our recording of the traditional tattoo has this secondary relevance to survivors [in comparison to its new significance]and it was the survivors who created the archives.

“The women who created this archive chose to affirm their identity by documenting Yazidi customs and traditions for future generations,” says Nisha Sajnani, founding director of arts and health at New York University, another project partner. “In doing so, they reflect the strength, dignity and vitality of their community. The partners also plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. This will enable them to develop evidence-based policies for dealing with conflict-affected communities, for bodies such as the UN.