About the Author: Aaron Snipe is a Foreign Service Officer who worked with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Muthanna Province, Iraq.
For many of my Foreign Service colleagues who volunteered to serve in Iraq, our service was a transformational experience. Long hours, meaningful work, and friendships forged in the crucible of war make Iraq a most unique diplomatic assignment. Many of us who served on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) developed friendships with local Iraqi officials, tribal leaders, religious leaders, university students, and every-day citizens. For some, these connections will always endure as cherished memories. Yet for others, finding ways to keep in touch with Iraqis still in Iraq remains an important part of our experience.
Frequent DipNote readers may recall my blogs last year about an art exhibit I worked on when I was serving on a PRT in Muthanna Province. Our PRT, in conjunction with a local non-governmental organization, sponsored an art program for the women artists of Muthanna. The event was a great local success and received national media coverage in Iraq. In this small art exhibit in rural Iraq, we'd achieved our objectives: State Department-led civilian engagement with the citizens of one of Iraq's most conservative provinces; support of Iraqi civil society; preservation of Iraqi culture; and the amplification of the voices of an important demographic in Iraqi society -- women. Though, at the time, I wondered: Was there more we could do to strengthen the voices of these artists? The citizens of Muthanna enjoyed the paintings, but could the stories of these women reach beyond Iraq's borders -- through more than a few blogs on DipNote?
On March 8, in celebration of International Women's Day, I had an opportunity to answer these questions by helping carry the stories of these brave women artists beyond Muthanna's borders all the way to State Department headquarters in Washington. The U.S. Diplomacy Center in cooperation with PRT Muthanna and the Department's Office of Global Women's Issues, brought The Colors of Warka art exhibit to Washington for Women's History Month. I knew the paintings and the artists well, and their stories are those I've told over and over again in blogs, in memos, in meetings, in briefings, to friends and family, and to anyone who would listen. Their stories of courage, of struggle, of success and of hope inspired me, and to see their art gracing the walls of a diplomatic reception hall in Washington made those of us who were there at the creation so very proud. When we came up with the idea for this program, we thought it would begin and end in Muthanna. Yet, here in Washington more than a year later, the stories of these women continue to resonate with audiences.
A few days ago, the world watched the citizens of Iraq raise their ink-dipped, purple fingers in triumph in a national election where Iraqis exercised not only the right to vote, but the right to express themselves. So, too, had the women of Muthanna raised their paint-dipped brushes to express themselves. At the exhibition's first opening in Muthanna, more than a year ago, one of the artists whispered to a friend, “Through our paintings, everyone will know our stories. They will know who we are.”
How right she was.
Related Entry:The Colors of Warka Debuts in Washington