On 26th March, Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman, MP for Meriden, launched an exhibition by British artist, Hannah Rose Thomas, in Westminster. This exhibition features moving self-portraits of Yezidi women who are dealing with immense trauma after escaping the self-proclaimed Islamic State, alongside Hannah’s exquisite portraits of the same women.
The exhibition, titled – Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors – will running from 26-29 March. It advocates on behalf of the Yezidi community and others who have experienced similar abuses, urging the UK government to act by supporting and empowering minorities in the Middle East to rebuild their lives. In particular, the exhibition presses the government to respond to the double-vulnerability faced by women in these communities who are targeted because of their minority faith and their gender.
The portraits in the exhibition were painted last summer when Hannah Rose Thomas and clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Whittaker-Howe travelled to northern Iraq. Hannah Rose Thomas said, “Art can be used as a powerful tool for advocacy and to give a voice to the voiceless. Teaching the Yezidi women to paint their self-portraits has enabled those, who have never been to school or learned to read and write, to share their stories with the rest of the world. Testimony is an important element of the recovery process post-torture and sexual violence. These paintings are a testament to the strength, dignity and unimaginable grief of the Yezidi women, many of whom still have children in ISIS captivity.”
Dame Caroline Spelman MP said, “In March 2016 I met with a delegation of Yezidi women in parliament, ever since hearing their traumatic accounts first hand I’ve been keen to advocate on their behalf and assist in giving them a platform to voice their stories. It’s critically important that we reach these women with further assistance, including greater targeted financial support. They, along with Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, continue to face daily discrimination and huge challenges as they seek to reintegrate back into their local communities.”
The exhibition is supported by Open Doors UK, a charity that serves persecuted Christians all around the world. Open Doors UK connects its field experience, on-the-ground intelligence and needs assessment expertise with its advocacy work in the UK parliament to ensure it speaks up for those who are most in need and communicates growing and emerging trends to decision-makers.
The exhibition has so far been well attended, with guests including the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP (Minister of State for the Middle East), Lord Ahmed (the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict), the journalist Fiona Bruce and Julian Knight, MP for Solihull.