San Francisco, California
London, United Kingdom
Photographic Exhibition, #IAmYezidi, conveys the brave stories of Yezidi Women in Iraq
#IamYezidi, is a compelling, photographic exhibition that explores the hardships faced by Yezidi women in Iraq, running from 21st – 26th March at Lacey Contemporary Gallery, 8 Clarendon Cross, London W11 4AP. The exhibition captures the heartbreaking but inspiring stories of just some these brave women, highlighting their suffering while paying tribute to their incredible strength.
#IamYezidi explores the individual stories of women who have escaped slavery or rescued their sons and daughters from ISIS captivity. The stories of their pain, sorrow and continued hardship but also their resilience, commitment to righteousness, honour and their will to survive, are captured through vivid, portrait photography by award-winning photo journalist, Benjamin Eagle, and international, humanitarian charity, Khalsa Aid.
Khalsa Aid, alongside the Jinda Centre, Northern Iraq, has been supporting over 500 Yezidi women since January 2016 and this number continues to rise as more women are rescued from ISIS captivity. The charity has been providing food and clothing supplies and general welfare including psychological support and rehabilitation to those returning from ISIS captivity, having survived extreme abuse and torture. Khalsa Aid’s support also includes the acknowledgment of the suffering of these remarkable women and listening to their stories – conveyed through the exhibition to highlight their experiences. Almost all of the women who have been rescued or have escaped from ISIS want to tell the world about their experiences whilst in captivity. A forgotten community, these are women who look forward to the Khalsa Aid visits each month, for the human interaction above anything else, having lost all male members of their families, killed by ISIS.
Explains Ravi Singh, Founder, Khalsa Aid, “We are using the power of art to share the stories of these Yezidi women who have gone through some horrific ordeals yet still demonstrate hope and resiliency. #IamYezidi coincides with International Women’s Day to celebrate the strength of these women and provide a voice to a forgotten community."
Photographer Benjamin Eagle, whose work often appears in publications such as National Geographic Traveller, VICE magazine, Guardian and Daily Telegraph, says of the experience, "Meeting the girls was for me the hardest part. When I heard the stories at first, it was a combination of numbness and shock, then sadness. I found myself mesmerised by the women who'd experienced such pain and suffering and yet had a real strength, power and calmness to them. Scared but still holding onto hope and positivity for the future and the future of their loved ones, who were still in the hands of ISIS and uncounted for."
The Yezidis comprise a minority community in the Middle East, who have been attacked by terrorist forces such as ISIS in the most inhumane, horrific and debasing manners imaginable. Originating from one of the oldest faiths, they are stigmatised by other communities, seen as the pagans of the Middle East, 'devil worshippers' persecuted for their spiritual views. Each month, an increasing number of girls are returned and rescued from ISIS imprisonment. During Khalsa Aid’s last trip, 29 young women had reached the Jinda Centre, the youngest aged 16. There are still over 1,000 girls held captive by ISIS and treated as commodities. Families are forced to ‘buy’ their wives, mothers and sisters back, with money saved through bartering their monthly food rations. Having survived the most unspeakable cruelty, these incredible women are positive about what the future holds, slowly rebuilding their lives and networks day by day.
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Khalsa Aid is an international humanitarian aid organisation founded in 1999 on the Sikh principle of “recognise the whole human race as one”. Over the past 18 years, Khalsa Aid has operated in 25 countries across the world to deliver humanitarian aid. Their approach to administering aid is twofold; firstly to provide instant relief in natural disasters and areas of man-made conflicts and secondly to establish long-term rehabilitation programs where necessary.
In the last few years, their work has grown exponentially due to the global instability perpetuated by economic and political wars. They are currently active across South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, providing relief to poverty stricken families in Punjab and Malawi, as well as provisions of shelter for Syrian migrants seeking refuge in neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.
They have also seen how natural disasters have caused much grief and hardship to people in Nepal, Bosnia and Haiti. Their volunteers have flown out to provide supplies to victims of earthquakes and floods in an attempt to relieve their pain irrespective of their colour, race or religion.
Their work is possible only with the support of their donors, 80 per cent of whom come from within the Sikh Diaspora living in the UK, Canada and America. The Sikh community feels obliged to serve humanity due to the universal teachings of oneness and love for the Creator and creation. An unflinching duty to uphold the truth and oppose injustice has always been the Sikh way, which is why the Sikhs are so passionate about humanitarian work.
Providing a helping hand to the oppressed is engrained in the Sikh psyche and they will always serve with the firm belief that across the diversity of race, religion and culture, it is our humanity that unites us all.
Further details of individual aid missions and projects can be found on the website – www.khalsaaid.org