‘Butterfly Souls’ exhibition by SA children memorialises children killed in Gaza

Exhibition honouring the thousands of children killed in Gaza by the Israel Defence Forces.

Exhibition honouring the thousands of children killed in Gaza by the Israel Defence Forces.

Published Jul 6, 2024


Comprising the artworks of South African children, an exhibition currently on display at the Desmond & Leah Tutu House memorialises the thousands of children martyred in Gaza by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) as a result of its unceasing military bombardment on the largely refugee and displaced population.

Butterfly Souls: Honouring the Children of Gaza is an exhibition by the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation with artwork from the children of Cape Town collected by Two Suns Shamsaan, Salt River Heritage Society and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Two Suns Shamsaan hopes to collate the names of all the over 16 000 children killed in Gaza and to have these placed all across South Africa.

The names of the children are written on paper butterflies, meticulously decorated by mostly children, with some adding personalised messages, for those living and dead. Adults too have joined the act of that is described as a “sanctified remembrance and memorialisation project”.

The exhibition also comprises artworks related to Palestine and can be viewed at Desmond & Leah Tutu House, District Six, from Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 3.30pm.

Exhibition honouring the thousands of children killed in Gaza by the Israel Defence Forces.

On Wednesday, the exhibition was launched with special guests – Palestinian activist from the West Bank Manal Tamimi, and sons of slain Al Jazeera journalist Samer Abu Daqqa, singer Zain and Yazan Daqqa.

Tamimi, who has been arrested on three occasions in 2011, 2015 and 2017, provided insight on what she described as the deplorable conditions and the abuse Palestinian prisoners faced.

“Once they arrested me in my house at 3am, saying that I tried to kill an officer. They were preparing a sentence of eight years. Luckily, my lawyer could find a video of me in the village at the same time. This is what they normally do. If they want to arrest or stop an activist, they just fake charges.”

The living conditions of Palestinians were unlike anything experienced before, she said. “Since 75 years, we have been under occupation, it’s never been like this. We never faced a genocide, ethnic cleansing, the way we are facing in Gaza now.”

In the West Bank, it was no better. Kidnapped Palestinians who were arrested and died during imprisonment were kept in freezers until their sentences were completed. Prisoners were also notoriously denied medical treatment even for grave conditions such as gunshot wounds and cancer, Tamimi said.

Minor prisoners from 11-14 years could face a five-year imprisonment sentence for throwing stones, and if between the ages of 14-17, they could face a sentence of 20 years.

“For us, the stone is a refusal symbol of the occupation.”

Palestinians Yazan Daqqa and Manal Tamimi.
Zain Daqqa, Palestinian singer and activist.

Due to the frequency of child arrests, Tamimi has assisted in teaching children what to do when arrested and what to expect when faced with interrogation and torture.

Camera therapy was provided to children, with workshops equipping them on how to use a camera, “To teach the children how to use a camera as a way of resistance,” she said.

“Resistance is not just direct action with the soldiers. Another reason is that we want cameras to be all over the village in case something happens.”

Two photographic exhibitions were held showcasing the children’s images.

Yazan said the Israeli army targets journalists and camera operators as much as they’re targeting resistance fighters.

“Because they don’t want anybody to show their crimes, they want the whole world to stay quiet so that they can keep telling their propaganda and their lies.”

Guest curator Naimah Omar said the exhibition was to pay homage to the children of Gaza.

“I’m speaking from a mother’s point of view – to see so many children dying and you cannot do anything, you’re just staring at their faces through a screen, and something breaks inside of you that you cannot protect them, and this is our way of paying homage to them.”

She added: “We ask our children, when you see these images, how do you feel about them? And they feel similar to us and this is how they express themselves viscerally and visually, and to capture that and to persevere it for prosperity.

“To say to these children of Palestine, we see you, we hear you, we feel you. We’re with you in the struggle and this is a way of appreciation and love that we show to them, and it also shows the humanity within ourselves as well.”

Before the exhibition, the Salt River Heritage Society hosted a butterfly-making workshop for children for the project.

Several children who are part of the Molo Songololo “it’s Your Move” programme to remember the children killed in Delft and Gaza, joined the weekly vigil for Palestine on the Freedom Steps of St George’s Cathedral Wednesday, and created their own personalised butterflies to be added to the exhibition.

Programme Manager Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation Charlene Houston said the Foundation wants to highlight the increasing number of deaths among children because Archbishop Tutu, who spoke out consistently against the occupation of Palestine loved children. He spent time with children, authored children’s books and was a patron of Tygerberg children’s hospital.

Shamsaan Creative director Nadia Meer said Shamsaan was founded in 2016, working with children and youth for a platform to amplify the voices of Palestinian children as well to facilitate collaborations with South African children.

“Our campaign is called Butterfly Souls, and the idea is to give voice to the voiceless children that have been killed in unprecedented numbers, which is currently at around 16 000 recorded deaths, but there are over 20 000 children that have been missing, so they could be either under the rubble, arrested or killed. We don't know.”

Meer said they were open to suggestions from the public on public spaces for the display of the butterflies.

Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa was killed in a targeted attack by the IDF while on duty covering the IDF bombing of a UNRWA school used to shelter displaced people in Khan Younis, on December 15.

The ambulance attempting to reach him was targeted and two paramedics were killed. He was left bleeding for over six hours. While wounded, he was shot with another missile which ended his life, his son Yazan said.

A few weeks earlier, he had contacted Meer requesting that South African artists work with Zain to promote a message of peace through song. This request, also in honour of the slain journalist, has resulted in a collaboration with the Windybrow Children’s Choir in Hillbrow, Johannesburg for two songs which will be released soon.

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