From Little Stones/Driftseed:

Today, in honor of UN Human Rights Day, we bring you a story from Hannah Rose Thomas, a London-based humanitarian and artist. Hannah paints the portraits of people she has encountered on her travels; from African women in remote villages in Mozambique to Syrian refugees in Jordanian refugee camps. Her most recent paintings have been of Yezidi women in Kurdistan. Watch Hannah’s talk and head to her website to learn more.

This is Hannah’s story…

This summer I travelled to Kurdistan to organize an art project for a group of Yezidi women who have escaped ISIS captivity.

In recent years the terrorist group known as “The Islamic State” has been persecuting the Yezidi community, a religious minority in Northern Iraq. At least 5,000 Yezidi men have been killed, in what has been described as genocide. Over 6,000 Yezidi women and children have been taken into slavery; some have managed to escape but many have not.

Hannah at the Jinda Organization, listening to Basse’s story (2017). Photo courtesy of the artist.

I spent two weeks at the Jinda Organization, a rehabilitation center in Dohuk, Kurdistan, teaching Yezidi women who have escaped ISIS to paint their self-portraits. Through art, these women, who have never been to school or learned to read and write, were able to share their stories with the rest of the world.

These paintings convey their dignity, resilience and unspeakable grief. One young mother named Basse painted an image of ISIS separating her from her six-year-old daughter.

“They took her hands out of my hands, and put her into the hands of the enemy…. Every day and night I imagine what Daesh are doing to her.”

Basse escaped, but her daughter did not.

This is Hannah’s story…

The other women painted portraits of themselves in the Yezidi traditional dress of white robes. This is a significant expression of their sense of identity. The women have only worn black or brown since their captivity, to express their grief for loved ones lost.

Following my return from Kurdistan, I began painting portraits of each of the Yezidi women and plan to exhibit these paintings alongside their self-portraits and testimonies. For these portraits, I have used painting techniques from the early Renaissance.  The gold leaf is to symbolize the sacred value of the women, in spite of all that they have suffered at the hands of ISIS. The women also requested that I paint their portraits in white robes.

One of the women I have chosen to paint is Leila. Leila describes the moment when she was separated from her husband and children as death. She engraved their names on her hand and forearm when she was imprisoned in an underground prison in Raqqa for two years.

The greatest trauma for the Yezidi people is the ongoing anguish of loss and separation.

In these portraits we see a glimpse of the Yezidi women’s unspeakable grief but it is also a reminder that we all face grief and sorrow at different times in life. We are not so different; we are inextricably connected to one another.

It is my hope that this exhibition of my portraits of Yezidi women, alongside their self-portraits and testimonies, will travel to many different places, to advocate on their behalf.

The Yezidi women feel forgotten and abandoned; this exhibition is to ensure that their voices are heard.

– Hannah Rose Thomas

Support Hannah’s Work

You can support Hannah’s art for victims of ISIS by donating to her Go Fund Me Page. Additional funds raised beyond project costs will be donated to the Jinda Centre in Dohuk, to support the Yezidi women.

Make a donation to support Hannah’s work:

Stay in Touch

To learn more about Hannah’s work, visit her website
Follow her on Instagram @hannahrosethomas

About Little Stones

Little Stones is an award-winning documentary that unites the personal narratives of four women around the world using art to create positive change in their communities. From a graffiti artist speaking out against domestic violence in the favelas of Brazil to a dancer rehabilitating sex-trafficking survivors in India, each of these women is contributing a stone to the mosaic of the women’s movement through their art.

About Driftseed

Driftseed is a 501c3 non-profit organization which seeks to build a better world for women and girls through documentary storytelling. Driftseed was founded by filmmakers Sophia Kruz and Meena Singh, with attorney Ankita Singh.