Nov 17, 2019 Last Updated 5:49 PM, Nov 13, 2019

Art in Action: Art and the Jiyan Foundation

Art therapy seminar at Qushtepe refugee camp with Red Pencil International

At the Jiyan Foundation, we believe that art is a fundamental facet of life. Through art we can share our stories, explore our inner emotions, and express feelings that we cannot put into words. Similar to a therapeutic undertaking, the artistic process is one of self-expression and exploration. Combining art and therapy can allow trauma survivors a culturally sensitive way to process difficult experiences and help them to look towards the future. That is why the Jiyan Foundation works diligently to promote art and artistic endeavors in all aspects of our work.

Many of our therapists use art therapy with their clients as a culturally sensitive way to broach taboo topics. Depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), rape, and abuse are widely misunderstood in the region and considered shameful. For those patients who struggle severely in speaking about their experiences, art provides another outlet for these emotions and allows them to take an active role in their therapy sessions.

In this way, art therapy works very well with younger clients who cannot express their emotions and fears verbally. Drawing and painting gives them the opportunity to tell their stories tactilely through colors and lines. For example, one young Syrian boy depicted his distress by painting only black flowers. When he was encouraged to use a broad range of colors over a set of sessions, he began to appear livelier and take pride in his work. Art therapy also helps bring a bit of childhood back to children who have experienced more than a child ever should.

Providing professional art therapy would not be possible without training from established experts in their fields. We are grateful to the seminars for our dedicated therapists that were prepared by Fiety Meijer-Degen and Anne van den Ouvelant of the Hijman Degen Foundation in the Netherlands as well as The Red Pencil International from Singapore. Click below image to see impressions from our trainings at flickr.

Art Therapy

In 2013, the Jiyan Foundation started the “Coloring the Dreams” Art project for children in cooperation with the Sulaymaniyah University. Taking place on International Children’s Day, the project has encouraged hundreds of children in refugee camps to draw their dreams, goals, and hopes for the future. The project aimed to help children build a bridge between their past lives (their friends, family, and life before displacement) to their new lives outside of their homeland. Because of the project’s success, the Jiyan Foundation holds similar art events for traumatized children throughout Kurdistan.

The Coloring the Dreams project went international in 2014. With help from renowned singer Adnan Karim and the University of Sulaymaniyah, many more children were invited to draw their stories. The university later hosted a photo exhibition featuring the project. This collection then traveled to London and was part of an exhibit called “Conflict and Hope: Art in Troubled Times” in early November of 2015. 

Here at the Jiyan Foundation, we believe that stories and experiences can and need to be told through many different mediums. That is why we commission local artists, some of them former patients, to design our poster campaigns and assist us in our international publications. Many of our photos highlight works our clients have created, so they can help tell the world their stories.

The title image above was taken by Edwin Koo, an award-winning photographer from Singapore who accompanied the trainers of The Red Pencil International during their second trip to Kurdistan.

If you are interested in supporting our work to promote art and well being, please consider making a donation.