War Toys

Work

Recent Work

The War Toys nonprofit organization was founded by Brian McCarty in response to his experiences working in the field on the War-Toys photo series. Advocating for children who have been affected by war remains as one of the organization’s core missions. Unique, art-therapy-based collaborations with children amplify their voices and relay their often traumatic accounts to audiences around the world through exhibitions, presentations, and media engagement. Below is a selection of recent work:

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Homecoming

Old City of Mosul, Iraq
2018

At a child friendly space in the Debaga IDP Camp in Iraq, Hussein made a drawing showing he and his parents returning home, yet even at this hopeful event, a helicopter can be seen shooting at them from above. As he waited to show the art therapist his drawing, Hussein filled the blank spaces on his page by practicing the English letters he had been learning. A set of secondhand wooden toys were found in a bin at the Langa Bazaar in Erbil. The figures looked like they once belonged to a puzzle for a young child, one where each family member had a place where they fit, perhaps within a house. They were taken to the remains of the Old City in West Mosul, and Hussein’s imagined homecoming was photographed within the current reality, still littered with corpses and explosive hazards.

 
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Crossing an ISIS Checkpoint

Hassansham, Iraq
2017

To return home to Zumar, a boy named Salaam and his family had to cross through a checkpoint controlled by the Islamic State near Mosul. There, he saw ISIS soldiers shooting people for reasons he did not know. The memory of what he saw from the car window haunted him still.

 
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Left Home

West Mosul, Iraq
2018

9-year-old Ali made a drawing of his home. He told the art therapist that the house had saved him and his family, but after it was destroyed in the fighting, they'd had to leave. A well-used Fisher-Price Goldilocks & the Three Bears Playhouse from the late 1960s was found in a toy stall at the Langa Bazaar in Erbil, Iraq. Cleaned out from a U.S. attic and collected by a charity, it had been bundled with other used toys and sold by the container-full to secondhand vendors in Iraq. The pull-toy house, threatened by a plastic tank and helicopter, was photographed at the remains of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in West Mosul, where the Islamic State had declared their caliphate a few years before—close to where Ali's own home had once stood.

 
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Destroyed Bridge

West Mosul, Iraq
2018

In an art based interview with Myra Saad, a young Iraqi girl named Noor made a drawing about her father guiding her across a bridge that had been destroyed. Someone had used a piece of wood to span a broken section, and she was scared to cross it. Despite the peril, getting to the other side was the only way to reach the relative safety of her uncle’s house, away from the fighting. Soon after, she and her family had to flee again and ended up at the Debaga IDP Camp southeast of Mosul.

 
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Stoning

Hassansham, Iraq
2017

It’s not immediately apparent from her drawing, but an Iraqi girl named Zaina is sharing an account of watching a woman being stoned to death for not wearing approved attire under ISIS rule. In an art-based interview conducted with support from TdH Italia inside an IDP Camp near Mosul, Zaina first drew a woman at the bottom of the page, the outline of her can still be seen despite the stones that Zaina later covered her with. Revealing the story to Art Therapist Myra Saad, Zaina said that she’d like to give the stoned woman a flower and proceeded to draw one on top and fill in colors to cover up the scene of death. The resulting photo focused on the stoning and was created in the deserted and largely destroyed town just outside of the girl’s camp, located approximately 30km from Mosul.

 
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Elephants

West Mosul, Iraq
2018

Ahmad made a drawing he labeled as “a huge elephant and its [family] members” during an art-based interview with Myra Saad inside the Debaga IDP camp in Iraq. When Myra spoke with him about it, she asked about the one elephant that only had an outline. He said very intently that he didn’t want to color that one in. It was the ghost of a dead sibling, gone but still felt. The toy elephants were photographed in Mosul at the base of the al-Hadba’ ("hunchback”) Minaret, built in the 12th century and destroyed by ISIS in 2017 in the final days of the battle for the city.

 
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Armless Body

West Mosul, Iraq
2018

“When people started fleeing, my mom told my sister and me to go get the rest of the family. We went out of our street and there was an Islamic State fighter lying there. His stomach was detached and his arms were dismembered next to him,” (translated from Arabic). Saja shared her story in an art-based interview conducted by Myra Saad in May 2018 at the Debaga IDP Camp near Mosul. The toys were a combination of secondhand dolls found in the Langa Bazaar in Erbil and a new action figure, bought in the Central Bazaar then modified. As the photo was created in Mosul’s Old City, crews of young men were sifting through the rubble, pulling out scrap metal and unearthing the bodies of fighters and civilians that remained.

 
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Oil Field Showdown

Qayyarah, Iraq
2017

Just outside the town of Qayyarah, oil fields were set ablaze by ISIS fighters as they left anti-tank and anti-personnel mines to halt the advance of Iraqi forces to nearby Mosul. The thick black smoke hung over neighborhoods that bore the scars of heavy combat, reminding children of the two years of ISIS-occupation they had endured. In an art-based interview organized by IOM at a recently reopened school, Assem created a drawing showing the battle for the town. Because of the explosive hazards in the area, extra care was taken while recreating his account within the oil fields.

 
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Burning Neighborhood

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
2016

At the Kayany Foundation’s Malala Yousafzai School for Syrian Refugee Girls in Lebanon, “Alya” drew a before-and-after scene of her neighborhood in Aleppo. She talked about how peaceful and beautiful it was before burning and being destroyed by the war. The little music-box houses were found at a shop nearby, sold cheaply because the songs they played were so distorted. They were photographed with other local toys near Alya’s refugee camp along the Lebanon-Syria border.

 
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Survivor. Alone.

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
2016

Through her drawing, a young Syrian refugee girl revealed her feelings of intense isolation and guilt over surviving a missile strike that had killed all of her close family. She shared her feelings in a group-based intervention at a Kayany Foundation school near the Lebanon-Syria border. She sadly didn’t return for additional support on subsequent days. Note that the girl’s name has been pixelated on the top right of her drawing to preserve anonymity.

 

Work (2011-2017)