Artist Captures War as Seen by Children – Toys Included

Artist Captures War as Seen by Children – Toys Included

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One of the pictures of the photo series titled WAR-TOYS project, in Mosul
One of the pictures of the photo series titled WAR-TOYS project, in Mosul, Iraq, obtained by Reuters on July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brian McCarty Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE

By Ayat Basma
BEIRUT/DEBAGA CAMP, Iraq (Reuters)

U.S. photographer Brian McCarty wants you to see the horrors of war, but through the eyes of a child

There is no blood or mangled bodies. Instead there are pink dolls and blue tanks. A bird from a video game represents bombs falling from the sky. An elephant symbolises a lost sibling.

McCarty’s most recent work was set in Mosul where thousands of civilians where caught up in the fight to oust Islamic State. Social workers say children who witnessed the violence will suffer trauma for years.

 

Iraqi refugees pose with their art therapy drawings and renditions by U.S. photographer Brian McCarty at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil
Iraqi refugees pose with their art therapy drawings and renditions by U.S. photographer Brian McCarty at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq July 8, 2018. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

 

He uses art-therapy drawings and interviews with the children to depict their accounts using toys.

“I harness that to tell their stories and give it to an audience that normally maybe wouldn’t look,” said McCarty, 43.

 

One of the pictures of the photo series titled WAR-TOYS project, in Mosul
One of the pictures of the photo series titled WAR-TOYS project, in Mosul, Iraq, obtained by Reuters on July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brian McCarty Handout via Reuters

 

The children draw the horror, the loss, and the harm they suffered. Often, their accounts are presented with symbols which McCarty then recreates with toys. The result is a mix of the realistic and the absurd, with a hint of pop culture.

McCarty describes it as “reality with a dose of sugar“.

 

 

“It is from that childhood innocence, that very pure place of telling the story but not telling the story, and that is what is so powerful,” he said.

“People will connect to this. Especially for Western audiences where it is so easy to cast people in war zones … as ‘the others’,” McCarty said in an interview in Beirut.

“It gets past that because these are just toys. They are just plastic totems of real people.”

 

One of the pictures of the photo series titled WAR-TOYS project, in Mosul
One of the pictures of the photo series titled WAR-TOYS project, in Mosul, Iraq, obtained by Reuters on July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brian McCarty Handout via Reuters

 

A boy taking part in one session near Mosul in May drew an adult elephant with two calves. While he coloured in the parent and one of the calves, he refused to colour in the second which he said represented his dead sibling.

In his recreation, McCarty placed a toy elephant in a pool of dirty water standing behind a calf. He then superimposed a faded image of the second calf to represent the dead sibling.

 

“ONE STEP FROM REALITY”

A recurring image in the children’s drawings is the yellow “Angry Bird“, a deadly character in a popular video game. For the children, it came to represent bombs. McCarty said it was “just one step from the reality”.

 

An Iraqi boy who lost his arm during Mosul war looks at a photographic rendition by U.S. photographer Brian McCarty at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil
An Iraqi boy who lost his arm during Mosul war looks at a photographic rendition by U.S. photographer Brian McCarty at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq July 8, 2018. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

 

A girl who witnessed Islamic State militants stone a woman to death depicted the scene by drawing the shape of a woman only to bury her with circles until she was barely visible.

McCarty’s depicted that with a doll dressed in a headscarf and robe being pelted with stones. A shadow of a man in the foreground represents her executioner.

 

Iraqi children take part in activities at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil
Iraqi children take part in activities at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq July 8, 2018. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

 

McCarty said the process of visualising the drawings takes days. Once he has chosen an image and found the toys to recreate it, his work on the ground has sometimes put him danger.

On his first visit to Mosul in 2017, McCarty said Islamic State snipers tried to shoot him twice as he arranged a toy tank on the ground near a destroyed car.

His last visit to Mosul was in May.

 

U.S. photographer Brian McCarty gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters in Beirut
U.S. photographer Brian McCarty gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters in Beirut, Lebanon June 9, 2018. Picture taken June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

 

“I did this entire set up in the old city, the smell of death everywhere. When we were done we realized there was a skull and a body a meter away, the beard still intact.”

“I did this toy photo next to a dead ISIS fighter still in the rubble. That is the weird, bizarre … reality of the project.”

 

U.S. photographer Brian McCarty is seen working in Mosul
U.S. photographer Brian McCarty is seen working in Mosul, Iraq, in this still image obtained from a video on July 10, 2018. Reuters TV via REUTERS

 

McCarty said the initial motivation for his work came from his father, a Vietnam war veteran who rarely spoke about the war. His work, which began in 1996 in Croatia, has also taken him to Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq.

“I went into this project from a very academic, artistic point of view and all of that of went out the window when I saw a little girl colouring pools of blood for the first time.”

 

(Reporting by Ayat Basma and Imad Creidi; Editing by Tom Perry and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

 

Iraqi children take part in activities at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil
Iraqi children take part in activities at Debaga camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq July 8, 2018. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

 

A drawing by an Iraqi refugee girl depicts a scene of Islamic militants stoning a woman
A drawing by an Iraqi refugee girl depicts a scene of Islamic militants stoning a woman in this handout obtained by Reuters on July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brian McCarty/Handout via Reuters

 

A drawing by an Iraqi child shows an elephant and calves next to a photo rendition with toy elephants in the old city of Mosul
A drawing by an Iraqi child shows an elephant and calves next to a photo rendition with toy elephants in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, in this handout obtained by Reuters on July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brian McCarty Handout via Reuters

 

A drawing by an Iraqi child shows her and her father fleeing across a broken bridge next to a photo rendition with toy figures of a child and a man in old city of Mosul
A drawing by an Iraqi child shows her and her father fleeing across a broken bridge next to a photo rendition with toy figures of a child and a man in old city of Mosul, Iraq, in this handout obtained by Reuters on July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brian McCarty/Handout via Reuters

 

A drawing by an Iraqi child shows two siblings fleeing next to a dismembered body, next to a photo rendition in the old city of Mosul
A drawing by an Iraqi child shows two siblings fleeing next to a dismembered body, next to a photo rendition in the old city of Mosul, Iraq, in this handout obtained by Reuters on July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Brian McCarty/Handout via Reuters