California visual artist helps kids heal from the horrors of war2 min read
NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
Photographer and visual artist Brian McCarty, based in Los Angeles, has gotten glimpses of the horrible toll that violent conflicts all over the world have had on children under the age of 13.
It’s an ugly picture, to be sure — but there is hope. Through McCarty’s War Toys art series, which he started in 2011 and is now a nonprofit endeavor — he’s helping kids heal. More than that, his work is instructing and informing others on how to help children traumatized by war all over the globe.
RUSSIA INVADES UKRAINE: LIVE UPDATES
McCarty tells the stories of young war survivors by recreating the difficult moments that children have depicted during art therapy sessions.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of parallels in Ukraine to what happened in Syria.”
Sourcing toys from the countries where the conflicts have taken place, McCarty portrays the war recollections based on each child’s real-life drawing.
Each art piece is done in partnership with the mental health professional who oversees the art therapy sessions.
He’s worked with children who have survived conflicts in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria — and so far McCarty is seeing similarities going on in the Russia-Ukraine war.
“It’s tough. The things that especially the Syrian kids have been [through is] just unbelievable,” McCarty told Fox News Digital during a phone interview.
UKRAINE GIRL’S APPARENT MESSAGE TO DEAD MOTHER: ‘I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU’
“From barrel bombs to this whole shoot-to-wound policy that’s going on for them … It’s basically — the regime or [whoever] figured out — you can just shoot someone and wound them, [and] that means all these people have to take care of them, as opposed to, if you kill them, they’re just dead. And so they would literally shoot kids and wound them so that their parents would stop fighting and take care of them.”
McCarty continued, “I think we’re seeing a lot of parallels in Ukraine to what happened in Syria — a lot of similar actions.”
An estimated 4.3 million children so far have been displaced by the Russia-Ukraine war. Only about 1.8 million of those children have become refugees who have fled Ukraine for a neighboring country, according to UNICEF’s war recap on Friday, April 8.
UKRAINE, A LEADING SURROGACY DESTINATION, IS CAUGHT AMID WAR: WHAT TO KNOW
McCarty said it’ll likely take several weeks or months before he’s able to share the stories from Ukrainian children.
That’s because he insists on working with expressive therapists who interview their clients in a “safe” and “responsible” way.
Eventually, the children are invited “to share a story about their life that they want the rest of the world to know” — not “‘draw me the worst thing that happened to you,’” he told Fox News Digital.
In his opinion, mutual trust should be achieved, and the process shouldn’t be rushed. Each child who participates in the War Toys series spends about three hours with an expressive therapist. The therapists help the children get into a “headspace” where they feel comfortable enough sharing details about their lives, according to McCarty.
“It takes a certain breed of someone to be able to take those stories, internalize it, help the children and still go to bed at night.”
Many of the participants in past projects, however, draw heartbreaking and chilling scenes that range from bombings, shootings and burned-down homes to everyday life at refugee camps, checkpoints controlled by adversaries and dangerous border crossings.
UKRAINIAN YOUTH GROUPS AND SCHOOLS HOLD PRAYER VIGILS, PEACE RALLIES IN RESPONSE TO WAR
“It’s tough to witness,” McCarty said. “I’m in awe, though, of people like Myra Saad, the therapist I work with — that’s her job. She does it day in and day out, and I don’t know how. It takes a certain breed of someone to be able to take those stories, internalize it, help the children and still go to bed at night and kiss your kids and be happy.”
There was “no one else there to articulate what these children had experienced and still feared.”
McCarty began his War Toys series in 2011 with his “Wall Shooting” piece. It’s a work of art that’s based on a young boy’s depiction of a friend being shot at the Israeli Separation Barrier, a border wall between Israel and Palestine.
“To recreate the moment, I bought toys from shops in the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and traveled just past the Kalandia Checkpoint on the road to Ramallah,” McCarty recalled. “By the time I had the toys composed in front of the camera, a massive group of protesters had descended on the checkpoint. They were chanting and advancing on Israeli soldiers manning the post, now in full riot gear.”
PREMATURE BABIES IN UKRAINE RESCUED VIA AMBULANCE ESCORT DURING KYIV SHELLING
McCarty continued, “When the stun grenades and tear gas started going off, I had to choose why I was there. Would I stop and actually experience the events happening just behind me, or continue ‘playing with toys’ in front of the camera? I realized that I wasn’t there to witness these moments of violence and protest.”
He added, “There were photojournalists on both sides capturing the chaotic scene at the checkpoint, but no one else there to articulate what these children had experienced and still feared.”
“When the stun grenades and tear gas started going off, I had to choose why I was there.”
The singular project eventually evolved into the advocacy-focused series that it is today, which has used toys to bridge the gap between people who have experienced war and civilians who struggle to understand the harsh realities these children face.
UKRAINIAN PROFESSOR RECALLS COUNTRY’S INDEPENDENCE DAY IN LIGHT OF WAR: ‘UKRAINE WILL WIN’
“The reactions [that I’ve gotten] are really positive,” McCarty told Fox News Digital. “The children we work with, when they get to see [their work turned into] photos — we’ll get these really interesting critiques and the sort of unfiltered honesty you get from kids.”
The nonprofit’s ‘unique programs’
McCarty launched the nonprofit element of War Toys in December 2019 with a goal to create “unique programs” that “have a direct impact on children everywhere, not just in war zones.”
Currently, McCarty and his team are researching and developing generic toy designs that they intend to provide manufacturers as a way to positively impact the development of children living in low-income areas.
“With [the] generic toy industry, the toys that are available to children, at the lowest economic levels — no one’s investing in the designs and quality,” McCarty said. “So, we’re going to invest, and we’re just going to give the industry better designs.”
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
An example of the positive impact War Toys is trying to make in the generic toy industry includes a prototype combat photojournalist that can be packaged with bags of plastic soldiers.
“Small as the change might appear, we’ll give children more play options than ‘us versus them,’ while acknowledging the vital work of women and men who risk their lives to document war, often shoulder to shoulder with soldiers,” McCarty said.
War Toys is also spreading awareness for First Aid of the Soul, a grassroots organization that’s working to provide mental health services to people who have survived the Russia-Ukraine war.
FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK FOR MORE FOX LIFESTYLE NEWS
“At this time, as First Aid of the Soul is grassroots, we are continuing to build our network of mental health professionals in Ukraine and globally and discussing possible directions moving forward,” said Nathalie Robelot-Timtchenko, founder and executive director at First Aid of the Soul.
‘I have to really listen, immerse myself’
McCarty told Fox News Digital that there have been times when he’s had to put his own feelings aside in order to accurately capture the stories that are shared with him.
“Third-party trauma is something that can be challenging to manage,” he said. “To articulate the children’s accounts, I have to really listen, immerse myself and imagine these moments in their shoes. So a lot gets absorbed and mixed in with my own, sometimes less-than-awesome, experiences.”
McCarty continued, “I’m incredibly lucky in that I get to leave these war zones and come back to a lot of love and support, including a therapist who really earns her fee.”
He referenced an analogy he once heard that compared the weight of traumatic experiences to the weight of loaded train cars.
CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR OUR LIFESTYLE NEWSLETTER
“It gets heavier over time, but things don’t go off the rails, so to speak, until the train stops and all of that weight smashes into the back,” McCarty said.
“This is why trained mental health professionals are key to processing trauma — they know how to help lighten the load and bring things to a safer stop.”