(NewsNation) – Happy colors, stick figures and imagination. At first glance, these photos appear to be simple illustrations of children. But the drawings carry a deeper meaning, an expression of the devastation and destruction witnessed by the young artists, along with the hope that they will heal.
The drawings represent children trapped in the midst of war. With each stroke of the pen, the youngest victims of war reconstruct first-hand accounts of casualties and survival. It’s what Brian McCarty describes as “war from the perspective of innocence.”
McCarty serves as Managing Director of War Toys. The Californian organization uses art therapy to help children affected by war.
“They are the latest victims. Like you said, you’re the most innocent,” McCarty told NewsNation Prime on Sunday. “And if we look at their accounts, which are kind of undervalued so far, we’re looking at the war from the perspective of innocence.”
The organization connects with the children through established non-governmental organizations or United Nations agencies to conduct so-called arts-based interviews. In several sessions, the children get to know an art therapist and tell their stories.
“They share experiences that they want the rest of the world to know about. And then, amazingly, she can get them into that mindset and then get them out again. Even though they share the worst things that have happened to them, they still leave with waves and smiles,” McCarty said.
War Toys was founded in 2019, but their efforts date back to 1996. The group is particularly known for a photo series McCarty has been working on since 2011, in which he returns to war-ravaged locations to produce images based on the drawings made by children in the art therapy.
“Once we have the drawings the photos are made, we don’t take the kids because it would be unsafe, physically, mentally and just plain ethically wrong to immerse a child in those scenes. And so we find local toys; We go to the actual locations and recreate the events as closely as possible,” McCarty continued.
The product of those art therapy sessions and photographs? Hauntingly beautiful pieces which, in their conception, could have helped a child process what happened during the war and allowed them to heal from the trauma.
“Art therapy in general is the best tool for working with traumatized children, especially in war zones, children the age they are, they have the cognitive skills, they have experienced all these things the same way an adult would, but they haven’t the language skills. So they can’t sit and tell you about their experiences,” McCarty said. “So it takes those…more subjective approaches and someone who’s really trained to work with that effectively, but it makes such a difference. It’s so incredibly important to have someone listen and validate the experience and help them process it.”
In the weeks following Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine, millions of people were forced to flee their war-torn homes. Through the art therapy program, McCarty now hopes to amplify the voices of Ukraine’s youngest refugees.
“The most important thing is that the children’s experiences are the same everywhere. Despite cultural differences, geography and all those things, it’s exactly the same. What a child experiences in Ukraine is really no different than a child in Syria or Iraq or anywhere else. And that really is the bottom line. These children deserve protection and security anywhere and everywhere.”
Learn more about war toys here.