Tigray Solidarity Art: A Journey

Tigray Solidarity Art: A Journey

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.

February 2021

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!

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. 🙏🏼♥️

Oromo Women

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. 

Sister’s Keeper

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. ❤️🙏🏼

I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.

Audre Lorde

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:

We dance not only for celebrating, but also when grieving, dancing brings us together. We know we cannot do this alone.

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. 

Ashenda

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.

Tsadkan

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. 

Children in Mekelle, holding coloring pages

Please tell people to understand there is nothing we can offer the kids other than this at the moment.

Maedot Charity Organization

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. 

Advocacy

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:

“I have lost my sister,  have a jailed brother, and not know exactly where most of my family is.”

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!

Mekelle Protestors

Beloved Tigrayans,

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. 

Hear Our Voices!

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.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Stop mass arrest and killings of Tegaru and Oromos

    Dear Wang Wei

    TDF is superhero and managed to destroy foreign and domestic forces sponsored by the UAE, Turkey, China, Russia and US itself playing a deep concern game to these days from 4Nov 2020.

    Amhara’s elites in abroad are causing this bloody chaos along with Eritrean government who made Eritrea inhospitable to its own citizens . However, supporters of Ethiopian and Eritrean government are now principal actors of mass arrest genocide , and robbery in Addis Abeba and else where in Ethiopia.
    Soon TDF will control the capital and hope your country China will ask forgiveness like what France did in Ruwanda when they come to sign another China First style commercial agreement
    in Tigray and Ethiopia if this country will stay intact without being disintegrated and dissolved like salt in water.
    Amhara’s elites are desperately waging war against their own people and the rest of nations and nationalities, fearing that power will no longer be in their closer proximity and will not be permitted to run the country with an iron fist in a velvet glove.
    Amhara’s elites are destroying the relics and history of the entire Christianity, regardless of its denomination, and killing Christians and Muslims in the place of worship and their village together with foreign mercenaries. Sadly, these thugs claim that they are doing it in favor of Christianity and serving God which is absolutely an outstanding proof of mockery, and denial of religion and God. No religion justifies mass killing of civilians, regardless of the crime and their ethnic and political view.

    China, Turkey, Russia, and UAE should stop exterminating people of Oromo, Tigray, KImant, Gumuz, Agew, and Irob by providing military support to the genocidal regime led by Amhara elites . Chinese and other nations should condemn the atrocities of their political elites and their foreign policy, massive arm sale for a huge profit at the expense of mass exodus, mass killings, mass starvation and robbery of our people .

  2. Stop mass arrest and killings of Tegaru

    These are exceedingly and utterly gorgeous paintings . The more ways you can tell a story and paint a picture, the better it is. Ninja
    Your story and the these stunning paintings of Tegaru tell powerful stories altogether . As a painting is a representation of ideas and living beings, we could see easily our people who are undergoing unspeakable and unfathomable suffering in the hands of merciless dictators through your paintings that tickle our memory . Stop killing and torturing our people!

  3. Wang Wei from China

    Good morning out there my name is Wang Wei from China . I lived in adis abeba some years ago. I love to follow news about your country . I am quite surprised . How come these people became a national threat to Ethiopia, a land of heroes who defeated Italy ? Were they not reduced to ashes 9 months ago ? How do they manage to reach cities located only 220 KM away from the capital , force the noble prize winner and PM leave his office , and result in forceful massive recruitment to join the war using sticks , machetes and powdered red pepper ? This people have supernatural power ? All those drones coming from UAE, modern military machines from Russia, China(my country sadly speaking ) ,couldn’t avert and porhibit them from dismantling the forces of the current regime. Erdogan ,extreme Islamic leader who like to work with anyone to destroy Christianity and Pro-Egypt countries , states and people, is also backing the nobel prize winner . I am surprised too with military support achieved by Ethiopia from Turkey. Ethiopia is not liked by arab world. Because Ethiopia is dominantly a christian country.

    https://ahvalnews.com/recep-tayyip-erdogan/erdogan-has-incited-jihad-against-christianity-opinion

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/01/hagia-sophia-erdogan-erase-turkeys-christian-past/

    https://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2018/03/12/expert-erdogan-regime-considers-christians-jews-enemies-of-state/

    https://www.trtworld.com/middle-east/erdogan-urges-pope-to-mobilise-christian-world-against-israel-violence

    https://www.weeklyblitz.net/oped/fascist-erdogans-genocide-against-turkish-christians/

    For your information, I am a christian , and Catholic were greater in number in 1950s, but now protestants are outnumbering them. Latest reports states that 30 million Chinese people are officially registered Christians. We hope you stay safe , stop ethnic based killings and profiling and arrests before it is too late to avert. US is always playing a game for its own interest as usual.

Leave a Reply