Illustrating the Self’s Journey: 

Body Mapping about War and Recovery

Body mapping is a unique methodology that empowers participants to portray the physical, psychological and social impacts of war. In this section, we see the power of visual narrative as participants, many of whom had never drawn before, created images that act as both art and data.

Using a life-sized outline of a human body, each group collaboratively illustrated phenomena that affect their bodies, families and communities before, during and after conflict. The exercise resulted in maps of the seen and unseen factors individuals confronted as they attempted to rebuild their lives after war.




Body mapping is a technique that depicts the effects of a disease, profession or phenomenon on the human body. It is a visual methodology that can be undertaken individually or in groups. The process elicits pictorial representations of emotions, memories and identities, as well as the physical and psychological effects of an issue.


This methodology places less emphasis on written research, and instead allows community members – including those with no formal education – to tell their stories through drawings.

Participants in this process discussed the physical and emotional experiences of conflict and reintegration and collectively marked their observations on the body outline. This process empowered communities to self-define their individual and social experiences.

Each part of the human body, as well as the open space on the body maps, communicates the complex reality of reintegration. From hunger portrayed as a knife in the stomach to rocks in the chest symbolizing “a heavy heart,” these images possess a universality and immediacy. Each body part’s interaction with conflict was explored, as seen from the notes associated with a body map from Walikale:[2]

Her eyes have seen bad things: people dying and being raped. Her nose has smelt the dead people and bullets, as her ears have heard the bullet’s crackles and large missiles of war. Her mouth has eaten bad food but does not talk.

Participants also portrayed complex ideas using the body maps. In the Uvira body map, lines connect an empty stomach, a hand taking traditional crops and a gun on a child’s back. This image lays out the cycle of conflict predation by armed groups looking for food, using an individual as a symbol of a greater regional dynamic.

The white space around the human form was often used to indicate shared social space. For instance, the same Uvira body map cited above features a vignette in the white space of a former underage combatant sitting on a chair, drawn much larger than the other children below. This vignette illustrates how some former underage combatants intimidated other children when they returned to their communities and began to attend school again.

These participatory body maps illuminate how each community defined its environmental and social geographies. Although the body maps depict an anatomical form, the data revealed psychological and social phenomena in addition to physical experiences.

Through engaging with, analyzing and comparing the body maps of both genders, a picture emerged of how former underage combatants and their communities interpreted their experiences with conflict and reintegration.

Click here to browse the body maps