Ammar Salim’s apartment is no more than three square metres, enough room for a single bed, a small fridge, and a tiny bathroom. But every bit of spare space is taken up with images of horror and violence, inflicted on his friends, his family, his community.
Ammar is Yazidi.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The sect has been targeted targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, who’ve carried out what Human Rights Watch calls “a litany of horrific crimes”.
Men were slaughtered, women and children put to work, young women forced to marry fighters or taken as sex slaves. Hundreds are still missing.
The artist used to work as a costume and set designer in Barshiqa.
He made a good living, and had a studio full of his private artwork, which he says was worth tens of thousands of dollars. But when news of ISIL’s advance reached his town, there was little time to act.
“On that day we didn’t leave behind one single person,” he says. “All of us, we fled to Dohuk. And after three days, ISIL had control of all our of towns.”
Ammar Salim now works part-time for the governor of the region. But in his bedroom-turned-studio, he paints the images he says the world needs to see.
“It was a tragic thing that happened. I feel that tragedy, and then I paint,” Ammar Salim said.
“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.”
The paintings are difficult to see.
In one, dozens of women are chained and struggle against their captors. They are being sold to the highest bidder. Their eyes are desperate. Their mute pleas for mercy go unanswered.
In another, a woman and her child weep tears of blood over the corpse of a loved one.
Amma tells me this is Sinjar mountain – the place where hundreds, if not thousands, of Yazidi men were murdered at the hands of ISIL fighters.
Ammar hopes that one day his paintings will hang on the walls of galleries in the West.
“My goal is to be like a messenger to the world,” he tells me as we look at the woman and her child, clearly in much pain.
“I am getting a lot of offers and good jobs, to make happy art, like I did in the past. But I am refusing to do that.
“Because for me, what will I say to my people? That I am painting happy things? I refuse.”