How children’s drawings tell about war and exile

Among civilians in countries that have been militarily attacked or victims of persecution, children — child victims, displaced children as today in Ukraine, refugees, or even child soldiers — have fueled over several decades the renewal of scientific research on war-like violence.

The research first focused on the child as a target for mobilizing war discourse, national and international social policies, and humanitarian aid. By participating in mobilization around the victims, media images of children evoke emotion, to very varying degrees, according to the degree of proximity to conflict.



Read more: Abuse, violence, crises and wars: childhood traumas have lasting effects


at A century of refugeesBruno Cabanis also emphasizes the “persistent ambiguity between photography that documents exile, that delights in the spectacle of suffering and that fuels, sometimes voluntarily, the fear of an immigration invasion”. These representations deeply reveal adult perspectives, collective sensibilities, and sometimes propaganda.

As well as studies on child mobilization and care based on discourse and practices the person who is lookingMore recent works focus on children’s experiences of war, and are studied through the traces they leave: diaries, letters, drawings… These childish sources reveal a child’s particular view of war. And exile: allow us to approach the experience, the distance Live from the event.

Students of Fritzie Rissel (Françoise) and Alfred Brauner, summer 1930.
Painted the war. Françoise and Alfred Brauner’s Look, Rose Duru and Catherine Melkowicz-Rio (Editors), Bab, 2011

Thus, the child whose words or drawings have been collected is part of the history of wars, and his graphic testimony is precious, not only for measuring the psychological impact of the conflict on the child – according to the method of science spirit – but also, in other disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, to assess the specific qualifications of certain conflict situations involving civilians in particular: war of aggression, occupation, bombings, mass destruction, so-called “sacrificing” crimes, filiation violations, crimes against humanity .. .

Humanitarian issues are of paramount importance; But these representations also make it possible to write the story of a specific conflict ‘at the child level’, placing it in the story of childhood in war and in exile.

Pioneering work

The reading of children’s drawings is fueled by introductory commitments, particularly at the time of the Spanish Civil War, with the activity of Alfred and Françoise Brauner, the subject of scientific work Childhood, violence, exile (Eve). From the perspective of childhood history “at the height of childhood,” the study and analysis of funds collected allows us to deepen our understanding of children’s experience of war, of evacuees and/or exiles. It is currently being pursued as part of the Prevention of Child and Refugee Violence (REVE) project.

Throughout their lives, Alfred and Françoise Brauner collected “drawing certificates” for children in war. In 1937, they joined the International Brigades in Spain, primarily a doctor. Then he undertook the task of inspecting centers for children who were evacuated from the Levant coast. In these houses, Brawner began to take an interest in painting as a therapeutic tool, but also as a political one, serving to denounce the horrors of war and, even more, to channel international solidarity towards the Spanish Republic.

During the war, it is estimated that about 600,000 casualties were directly caused by the war, more than half of whom were noncombatants. This first human experience continued upon their return to France, where Jewish children were evacuated from Germany and Austria, and then returned from the camps in 1945. Thus, Brauner’s commitment to the benefit of “those children who lived through war” is undeniable, both through collective action with Enfants Réfugiés du Monde, or by its continuing collection of children’s drawings of war, across the century and continents – from Lebanon to the Iran-Iraq conflict, from Algeria to Vietnam, from Afghanistan to Chechnya …

Of the two thousand drawings kept, only one tenth of the book will be kept by the Brauners painted war In 1991, as in the film of the same title directed by Alfred Brauner and documentary director Guy Boudon in 2000.

Figure 2 – The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Manuel Pérez Osana, 12: “My broken home.”
In the face of war. Le Considering de Françoise and Alfred Brauner, Rose Duru and Catherine Melkowicz-Rio (eds.), Bab, 2011, p. 44-45

The Brauners took special care of the children who had been evacuated to Spain, at Benicassim in 1938. Alfred Brauner comments: “And you have to look closely to discover, next to the bomb that did not finish falling, a human figure with an inscription: dad. It’s the miniature dimension of the dead father’s character that conveys the awe. […] At the top of the graphic, the caption title Politician: Fascism Was Exist! »

The Brown family’s originality is to put children and their discourse on war at the fore, from their early anti-fascist and Nazi commitments to their later pacifist and anti-nuclear stances, and to pursue them in educational contexts. Drawing, as a support for freedom of expression, constitutes an area of ​​expertise in which children’s rights are emphasized.

Read Battlegrounds

The graphics from the Brauner collection often seem remarkably spot-on to us. However, we must be wary of the current interpretation which reads, for example, the current aggressive war waged by Russia against Ukraine in light of the wars of the past, between the 1920s.And the twenty-firstAnd Centuries. Each drawing must be placed in its historical context insofar as it bears the imprint of a social world subject in times of war to individual upheavals that define the appropriate nature and representation of experience.

So every drawing should have a reading topic specific, which takes this production context into account. Thus, the Brauner collection is the subject of a careful description, reproducing both the comment made by Alfred Brauner, who was himself on a historical site, and the metadata, sometimes incomplete, available for research: the child’s name, age, place of production, date. , Formula…

Review of the Child Violence Exile Program (City of Clermont-Ferrand, 2013).

The set of graphics is based both on this description of contextual and realistic elements and on the interrelationships identified between the different graphic views of children; and theirs reading Also found in this link (R-EVE kits, including Brauner’s kit, and description are deposited in the Nakala Data Repository and available from the research blog: “Refugee Childhood Violence Exil (R-EVE)”, “Collections”).

The course of the group reveals similarities in themes and composition. Everywhere we find violence in the movement, and the emotions it evokes: the storming of the army, the bombing, the corpses, the wounds, the death, the displacement. From European residents to Sahrawis and Asian boat people, children’s drawings reveal a special interest in the arsenal, from machete to scud, through bayonets, tanks, rocket launchers and depictions of swarms and shells …

In “Everything is burning” (Fig. 1), two Soviet tanks are burning: an option that also reveals the national culture in which the Chechen child grows up. In “My Broken House” (Fig. 2), Manuel Pérez Osana depicts both fighter planes and bombers, and the trajectory of the bomb as it explodes on the ground.

Reallocation through drawing

The child designer’s imagination often applies itself to identifying people who are likely to provide assistance to injured people, stretchers, ambulances, and the hospital. These emphatic struts are first of all what he sees with his own eyes, firefighters, doctors, and stretcher carriers. Manuel Perez Osana’s drawing explicitly includes a cry for help (Socor), supposedly dumped from the child’s perspective, trapped in the destroyed and bombed-out house.

Figure 3 – The war in the former Yugoslavia (1991-1995). [Anonyme] : “Lily on the Graves” drawing of a child from a kindergarten in Zagreb.
In the face of war. Le Considering de Françoise and Alfred Brauner, Rose Duru and Catherine Melkowicz-Rio (eds.), Bab, 2011, p. 131

In an even more surprising way, the child puts his ability to work – as if the chaos of war is under control, by drawing, even if only in an imaginary way. This ability to act can be manifested in many symbolic forms: in the drawing (Fig. 3) “Lily on the graves”, a Croatian student from a kindergarten in the city of Zagreb who in 1991 faced the bombing of the Yugoslav army, depicts the graves. Where civilians and fighters are buried.

With large tulips, candles lighting up the graves – also placed on rivers in many Slavic traditions – the child takes on a mourning ritual that preserves the connections between the survivors and the world of the deceased. Reallocation through drawing is a form of action.

Children’s drawings often invent imaginary representations that form a large number of shelters in a chaotic reality: in 1944, in Terezin, a 9-year-old Czech Jewish girl, Erika Tausegova, painted her dormitory with a fruit basket in the first scheme, a butterfly and a vase Big full of roses. On the cusp of death, I opened an illusionary, intimate and familiar space haven, the sanctuary of the world before.

Explosions – Children’s Drawings, Adult Wars, Ziran S. Girardeau, Anamosa, 2017.

The collections of children’s drawings, with a terrible connection in the world, bring to our eyes childhood and adolescence experiences of extreme violence. Their collection, preservation, description, and analysis make it possible to retrace the history of the scientific, political, humanistic, and artistic uses of pictorial testimonies. But also, as Helen Judy wrote in her story of the Theresienstadion camp, fort islandFrom the drawings of Arthur Goldschmidt (an adult), they are committed to escaping from the surface of things, to “protecting a part of beauty”: “Everything is exposed, faces, water, trees, everything that is more.”

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