War Toys



Iraq, 2017

The occupation of Northern Iraq by ISIS, and the following war against them, displaced close to 4 million people, an estimated 950,000 from Mosul alone. Aid organizations could barely keep pace with the thousands of people fleeing the city and surrounding areas during the worst of the fighting, culminating in early 2017. Brian traveled with Art Therapist Myra Saad (Artichoke Studio) to Iraq in January to work with children under the care of Terre des Hommes Italia (TdH). Ten art-based interviews were conducted with girls and boys inside four IDP camps – Debaga 1 & 2, Debaga Stadium, and Hassan Sham – at Child Friendly Spaces organized by TdH Italia with support from UNICEF. All of the children had been deeply affected by the war, and most had experienced its violence up close before reaching the camps. Their stories included the death of family members, public executions, airstrikes, forced evictions, imprisonment, torture, suicide bombings, and perilous nighttime escapes from IS-held territory. To recreate the children’s accounts, Brian worked in and around Mosul, photographing toys found in local bazaars and shops.

What was originally scheduled to be three weeks in Iraq turned into six thanks to a generous commission from IOM / the UN Migration Agency. Myra rejoined Brian for six additional art-based interviews with children at three new locations – Qayyarah, Basirma, and Zumar. The children they worked with were a mix of IDP, refugees from Syria, and returnees to areas recently liberated. Their accounts were similar to their peers in other areas of Iraq – full of fighting, death, and other hardships. Yet each story was unique.