War Toys: Ukraine

Children often share their experiences and emotions through indirect methods of communication, such as art and play. As a result, their personal accounts of war frequently go unseen and unheard by the international community. War Toys: Ukraine presents universally understood accounts of this conflict while drawing attention to the individual children and communities who have been affected by armed conflict.

On February 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which began in 2014. The invasion has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths on both sides and caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. UNICEF estimates there are 5.2 million Ukrainian children in need of urgent assistance.

Since 2011, internationally recognized photographer Brian McCarty has been collaborating with children who have been affected by conflict on a unique project titled War Toys, which is now active in and near Ukraine. The project invokes principles and practices of expressive art therapy to safely gather and articulate children’s accounts of warfare. Under the guidance of a specialized therapist and working through NGOs and UN agencies, boys and girls become art directors for narrative photos of locally sourced toys.

McCarty explains “The inherent desire to create – whether on paper or in scenarios with toys – is universal to us all. For this reason, play is an invaluable tool for communication. Children learn how to process complicated feelings through a playful filter and explore tough questions in a language that is easier for them to understand.”

Viewers of War Toys: Ukraine will see thirty of the children’s drawings presented alongside McCarty’s photographs. In the process of sharing their artwork, children would often reveal the details that were most important or impactful to them, but some elements were buried, as if to protect them. The viewers’ eyes will move back and forth from McCarty’s works to the children’s drawings, recognizing the similarities and differences, but most importantly, reading between the lines. Exhibition visitors will also gain an understanding of the specialized support for children and caregivers and the psychosocial programs developed by the War Toys organization. Spanish and Ukrainian narrative translations are also available as a downloadable file that can be printed and used for an in-gallery handout.

“After a decade of fieldwork and research devoted to centering the voices and experiences of children affected by war, we know that the cost of conflict is too high and is paid, not in capital, but in the lives, mental health, and well-being of generations of children. Though we honor the bravery and heroism of soldiers, photojournalists, rescuers, medics, and civilians in war zones, we know there are no winners in war, just people who are affected and those who are left with its aftermath.”

–Brian McCarty

About The Artist

Brian McCarty is an artist and toy industry veteran whose postmodern integration of concept and character has earned his photography a prominent position in the Art-Toy and Pop Surrealist movements. Yet, McCarty’s work is often more akin to reportage than photo-illustration. His approach is grounded in documenting actual—albeit manufactured—moments of time from a uniquely personal perspective.

“By bearing witness through his artwork, McCarty provides the opportunity for otherwise silenced voices to be heard,” says Dr. Julia J.A.G. Byers, Professor of Art Therapy at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. “He asks us all to reflect on the innocence of childhood when it is surrounded and thwarted by human suffering. He asks us not to deny its existence but, rather, to question how to play—with resolve and resilience—in the face of such reality.”

About War Toys, the not-for-profit

In 2019, Brian McCarty founded the War Toys nonprofit organization. Seeing firsthand the severe effects of displacement and war-related trauma on these children, Brian assembled a team of directors, advisors, and officers that includes experts in expressive therapy, childhood development, human rights, advocacy, and toy design & manufacturing. Together, they are continuing the advocacy work of the photo series while developing new programs and forging alliances that will positively impact the lives of children around the world. Their mission is to catalyze a global cultural shift around war, through intentional and accessible methods of expressive war play, in order to build a lasting condition of peace for future generations. As a result, their programs encourage war play in intentional and supported ways, in order to imagine what a condition of permanent, lasting peace could look like for our children and us all.

War Toys artwork has been published by media outlets around the world in over a dozen languages, including:


The Guardian

Fox News

ABC News


Read More

Tour Schedule

War Toys: Ukraine is touring November 2023 through October 2028. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • November 10, 2023 - March 16, 2024 Strong Museum of Play
    Rochester, NY
  • April 6 - May 25, 2024 50% OFF
  • June 16 - August 11, 2024 Art Museum of South Texas
    Corpus Christi, TX
  • September 1, 2024 - January 1, 2025 National WWI Museum
    Kansas City, MO
  • January 28 - March 16, 2025
  • April 6 - May 25, 2025
  • June 16 - August 11, 2025
  • September 1 - October 20, 2025
  • November 10, 2025 - January 7, 2026
  • January 28 - March 16, 2026
  • April 6 - May 25, 2026 Refurbishment at Mid-America Arts Alliance
    Kansas City, MO
  • June 16 - August 11, 2026
  • September 1 - October 20, 2026
  • November 10, 2026 - January 7, 2027
  • January 28 - March 16, 2027
  • April 6 - May 25, 2027
  • June 16 - August 11, 2027
  • September 1 - October 20, 2027
  • November 10, 2027 - January 7, 2028
  • January 28 - March 16, 2028
  • April 6 - May 25, 2028
  • June 16 - August 11, 2028
  • September 1 - October 20, 2028

Exhibition Details

Approximately 60 prints (on dibond) and an interactive War Toys board game

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Barbara Griffin and Lauren Steel

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee


  • In-Region Rental Fee


  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Shipping

    Common Carrier

  • Running Feet


  • Square Feet


  • Security


  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    2 Estimated

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.

Downloads & Resources

Click HERE to view and download the Factsheet for War Toys: Ukraine.