Yazidi artist Ammar Salim, 31, uses his talent to show the world what the Yazidis suffer under the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). His paintings tell the story of the Yazidi massacres. “I want to connect all that happened, to explain about the Yazidi genocide,” he explained to Rudaw.
Salim left his hometown of Bashiqa when word came that ISIS overtook Mosul.
“On that day we didn’t leave behind one single person,” he said. “All of us, we fled to Dohuk. And after three days, ISIL had control of all our of [sic] towns.”
He did not bring his supplies or equipment. To survive, he produced “huge images of Mickey Mouse and other cartoon characters from silicone and paper.” He once made a 13-feet-tall replica of a Kurdish singer, but he stopped painting because no one bought them.
“In this country nobody cares for paintings,” he sighed. “You can open a gallery, but people do not come.”
In Duhok, a Kurdish town in northern Iraq, he teaches art. Salim also met others who fled ISIS, which inspired him to pick up the paintbrush again. The story spreads across nine canvases. They are graphic, but for the Yazidis, describing their past year against ISIS as brutal is putting it lightly. There are no words to describe the torture and horrific abuse inflicted upon the small religious group.
“It was a tragic thing that happened,” he exclaimed. “I feel that tragedy, and then I paint. When I meet witnesses and they tell me their stories, and I saw that in the media there were no images like this, I decided to make these kind of paintings. To record what happened and show it to the world.”
One canvas shows “ISIS fighters killing men and chasing and raping women on Mount Shingal.” Another displays the “fighters choosing and buying women that are undressed in front of them.” He fills the paintings with symbolism, such as a “ring for lost virginity, withered trees for the changed and lost lives of Yazidi women.”
Salim admits his paintings stray from testimonies of Yazidi women. The fighters split up the men and women before they committed their sadistic acts. However, it is only a minor detail. What truly matters is the action of the ISIS terrorists.
“I painted what people who escaped from the mountain told me,” he claimed. “How ISIS came, captured the people and some fought with them. Many of the characters are real. This is the reality of what happened.”
The recent painting strays from the Yazidi theme. Instead, it depicts the slaughter of Shiite armies near Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. ISIS murdered 1,700 soldiers from the Speicher military base.
“All these paintings show what Daesh did in Iraq,” he stressed. “By painting the Speicher massacre, I get it back into the attention. Whilst people and government try to forget it, I want to keep it in the public memory.”