By: Bethany Jackson Canfield
When I first heard of the genocide being committed against Tigrayans, I was filled with horror. How could this happen? My heart broke. So I did the only tiny thing I knew to do, I started doing art to raise awareness. I never knew if anyone would even see it, but I knew being silent was not an option. If only one person would listen, that would be someone. So I began to paint. Here is the journey, in [the?] order of the posts that I shared on social media trying (to the best of my knowledge) to raise awareness about the atrocities of genocide while painting art that portrayed the dignity and humanity of Tigrayans.
The Tigray people need our prayers, and support at this moment. I will not pretend to be able to understand all of the layers of what is happening in Tigray. I also will not be silent while people die. Having lived in Ethiopia as a Ferengi (foreigner) made me very aware of just how long, deep, beautiful, and traumatic Ethiopian history is.
Learn what is happening in Tigray, raise awareness and cry out to God for the Tigrayan people.
For over 100 days now, there has been a crisis in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. Humanitarian aid and journalists have not been allowed in the region. The government has cut off power, internet, access to banks, and in some areas food and water. People are being brutalized. The situation is dire, and innocent people are dying, women and children are bearing the brunt of the atrocities. Black lives matter! Tigray Black lives matter! Habesha Black lives matter!
March 4th 2021
Immediately after I shared the Tigray awareness painting a brave Oromo woman reached out to me telling me about the situation of the Oromo people. We have since become close, she advocates constantly for her people and also for Tigrayans- regardless of the cost to her or her family. She told me that the Oromo have been oppressed for a long time and that while the situation in Tigray is absolutely critical, there are other regions that have been targets of discrimination in the present as well.
When my new friend/sister asked me if I would consider doing a painting for the Oromo people my heart lept at this incredible opportunity, what an honor. Of course, I said yes. After I finished the painting and asked what she would like me to share or say about the Oromo she said she would like to ask you to pray, the Oromo need our prayers and our solidarity. 🙏🏼♥️
These facts below won’t be easy to read, but I want to ask you to make it more personal and consider these men and women represented as your brothers, sisters as family, consider the loss and heartache not as far away, but bring it close to your heart.
- 3 Million Oromo farmers have been displaced.
- Government has stolen land for decades.
- If people speak up for themselves they are often imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
- 50,000 Oromo political prisoners are being held by the Ethiopian government.
- Oromia has been under military occupation since Dec. 2018
- Over 1300 extrajudicial murders of civilians by Ethiopian government forces have been documented.
March 8th 2021 (International Women’s Day)
I stand with my Tigrayan sisters of Ethiopia in the midst of the ongoing genocide, 126 days into the horrors you are enduring. How do you feed your family with no food? Weaponized rape?! All that has been stolen from you, all that you are forced to endure. I am my sister’s keeper, and she is mine.
I stand with my Oromo sisters of Ethiopia. You weep for your children, and their future. For generations your land has been stolen, your farms sold. If you speak up you will be punished, maybe killed. You weep in silence and fear.
I am my sister’s keeper and she is mine.
June 9 2021
The weight upon the women of Tigray at this time (including the Tigray diaspora) is not light. When rape is weaponized, and sexual violence has been approved by the government and perpetrated by soldiers, the humanity and dignity of women are challenged. When Mellay asked me if I could do this painting, and she chose this quote, it just went together so perfectly. What a defiant challenge in the very face of oppression, a declaration of internal triumph over everything that opposes.
What an honor to get to work on this painting, my prayer is that it encourages you. ❤️🙏🏼
August 22nd 2021
Tigrayans came from all over the US to celebrate Ashenda together in Seattle, Washington. Ashenda is a celebration of women and girls. Today I was invited to witness celebrating in its purest form, while at the exact time Tigrayans holding space for what all their sisters, mothers, and family have been through back in Tigray. You literally dressed me in your Habesha dresses and made me one of your own.
At the celebration, a young woman who loved telling me about her culture said as tears rolled down her face:
A song began to play over the loudspeakers and she listened for a moment and then said: “this song is new, it is telling of the Tigray Genocide, we should dance”.
They know joy to be resistant, persevering through tears, feet moving in unison, the distinct rhythm soothing, each step an act of courage to know that what is present will pass, while fully acknowledging the pain of their people. They know joy to be resistant, persevering through tears, feet moving in unison, the distinct rhythm soothing, each step an act of courage to know that what is present will pass, while fully acknowledging the pain of their people.
Stand with Tigray asked me to paint this Ashenda painting for their mothers day Twitter campaign. When they did I had no idea I would be able to experience my first Ashenda a few months later.
September 25th 2021
Tsadkan means holy. Tsadkan is the name Tigrayans chose for this painting. My hope was to create art that is a modern take on their traditional style of artistic depiction of an angel. While drawing and painting I prayed for protective angels to cover the people of Tigray miraculously, especially the children. May the Lord have mercy.
Today marks day 326 of the #TigrayGenocide and this week very difficult footage was released from blackout areas in Tigray showing videos and images of children in the final stages of starvation. While I will not share these dehumanizing images, their weight rests in my heart all day long. Tigrayans, thank you for sharing the images and videos with me, I helplessly grieve with you, that this is the reality for your families.
Tigrayans, this is your art. It will always be yours.
Fana, a woman from the Tigrayan community sent the PDF of the Tsadkan coloring page to Maedot Charity Organization, a team of medical and non-medical professionals who provide services for internally displaced people (IDPs) based in Mekelle, Tigray.
I asked before sharing here if it was okay, they said yes but asked me to reiterate the devastation that the blockade of humanitarian aid to Tigray is having on IDPs. So while these images are bittersweet, because I wish food and medicine had reached them also, still I will rejoice in seeing these beautiful faces, because their very joy is courageous resistance in the midst of the oppression coming at them. Their joyful resistance inspires me to continue to advocate and pray for their families. I hope it inspires you too.
Here I transitioned into advocacy protest paintings. I was feeling more hope dwindling and tragedy upon tragedy struck the community, each day that I was able I added a protester with a sign, trying to focus on what Tigrayans were tweeting or saying, and what you felt was most important.
October 17th 2021
Daily there is something new happening and I wanted to document, raise awareness and stand with Tigray in any way possible. Each day I’ve been adding a protester and a sign trying to focus on what Tigrayans felt was most important that day.
Tigrayans, you made this your own.
October 20th 2021
The Ethiopian government has bombed Tigray again today adding to the number of civilian casualties, many are children.
In light of this horrible news Mahdi Lima wrote this, please open your heart and hear her voice:
Don’t use your ignorance about a cause as an excuse to not speak up about it, notably the #TigrayGenocide #TigrayFamine #MekelleUnderAttack
My heart continues to break💔😣 my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, and aunts are fighting to survive airstrikes, famine, rape, murder, & kidnapping. The horrific reality for 6 million people across the entire region on #Tigray.
What would you do if you couldn’t reach your family for several months and they were suffering under these conditions? How would you feel if you went months not knowing if your family is alive? ❤️💛 #Tigrayonmymind💔
November 5th 2021
Here is what Taddesse sent me yesterday:
Another brother shared, “I have lost so many family members to count 😢. We will never forget.”
After being among the Tigrayan community, I can promise these are not isolated experiences, but a common reality that almost all Tigrayans share. It is one year since the beginning of the genocide, and still so much has been kept in the dark.
Still, my Tigrayans family doesn’t even know the full extent of the grief they should be feeling. It is the unknown that is sometimes the hardest, a whole year passing not knowing how many family members have died.💔🙏🏼
Thank you Tigrayans for letting me put your words on protest signs. May your voice be heard!
Along this process, I have been so humbled that even at this time you have welcomed me as family. You have welcomed me to your homes, your celebrations, your grief, your language, your clothes, your love, and your community. I have been beyond blessed just to be among you. While of course, I do look forward to one day celebrating with you in a free Tigray and long for the day when our prayers are answered. However, it is my pleasure to be among you in the current moment in both weeping and rejoicing. You have taught me more about dignity and courage than anyone else. It is with tears in my eyes that I want to say that I could never, ever thank you enough for allowing me the blessing of knowing you, you have changed my life forever.
Bethany Jackson Canfield grew up in Spain but now lives in Oregon with her husband and two teenage boys. She works as a teacher in a dual-language elementary school. She has previously lived, with her family, in Southern Ethiopia.