Photos give voice to the tragedy of Darfur

Monday, January 29, 2007

Photography was the medium and the horror of genocide the political message in a stunning synthesis of art and politics at the Darfur/Darfur Exhibition in List Art Center Gallery Friday night.

Hosted by the anti-genocide coalition Students Taking Actions Now: Darfur and the Watson Institute for International Studies, the exhibition, held on Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, used the four walls of List Art Center Gallery as a canvas to digitally project searing photographic images of the genocide in Darfur.

Whether it was the silhouette of a crying man, the scars of an abused woman, marching soldiers, burning villages or faces frozen in grief, the photographs on display testified to photography’s power to elicit compassion and inform viewers about how prejudice can lead to atrocity and despair.

Using effective film editing by Sharon Hughes and Matthew Jacobs, Leslie Thomas, curator of the exhibit and an architect from Chicago, presented masterful photographs taken by photojournalists. By creatively joining film technique with photography, Thomas created a compelling visual presentation.

Especially effective were the photographs taken by French photojournalist Helene Caux, who is internationally known for her work on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and those taken by Newsweek photographer Paolo Pellegrin. The exhibition also included the works of former U.S. Marine Brian Steidle and photojournalists Lynsey Addario, Mark Brecke, Ron Haviv, Ryan Spencer Reed and Michael Ronnen Safdie.

Though photography is a silent medium, the photographs in the exhibition were a poignant cry for help that resonated with those in attendance. “Photography weighs on our consciousness” and compels viewers to act, said Max Schoening ’09, a STAND member. Schoening said the exhibition was “important to the student movement” to provide relief to the suffering in Darfur.

The exhibition contrasted the horror of genocide with the natural beauty of the Sudan and its people, as if the former were a photo negative of the latter. The result was a dramatic juxtaposition of images of enthralling beauty and heartbreaking horror. Warm smiles were balanced with bitter tears, and hands that reached for help stood in stark opposition to limbless victims.

These juxtapositions aesthetically underscored the political necessity of helping those suffering in Darfur. The goal is “to get people to come and see an image and care because this can make a difference,” said Thomas. Many in the audience signed letters demanding action to stop the genocide and relieve the suffering in Darfur.

Actress Mia Farrow, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, spoke at a panel discussion following the presentation and presented her own photographs of Darfur.

Since its September 2006 opening in New York, the exhibition has traveled throughout the United States and the world. It has been presented at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and in Cape Town, South Africa. Brown is the first university to host the exhibition.

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