An Iraqi painter secretly portrayed life under the Islamic State (ISIS)

Nearly three years ago when the Islamic State group captured the Syrian town, Mustafa al-Taee as a witness bore the militants’ brutal rule by secretly painting what he had seen with his own eyes.

“They committed countless crimes and those crimes needed to be documented,” said the 58-year-old artist, speaking in his home in the northern town of Hamam al-Alil, near the city of Mosul. “There were no journalists, no cameras.”

While showing his paintings, he came across a child with an amputated hand.

“Because he was starving, this child was going through the garbage, collecting empty Pepsi cans to sell and food leftovers to eat later,” al-Taee said. A roadside bomb planted by the militants exploded, tearing off the child’s hand and legs.

“I expected them to shoot me at any time,” al-Taee said.

“After 15 lashes I started to cry,” he said. “I couldn’t feel the next 15.”

He was imprisoned for 15 days, and for a month after he was liberated, he was unable to draw or paint.

“I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t draw. I was scared,” he said. But he eventually started again, painting and drawing pictures that illustrated life under the extremists and hiding them in a friend’s car. When Iraqi forces drove the militants from Hamam al-Alil late last year, he no longer had to worry about being found out.

Reflecting on the risks he took, he said he couldn’t bear to give up his art. It’s an addiction, he said, “like smoking is an addiction for others.”

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