The representation of catastrophic war and its defacement of humanity is not only a necessity, but a moral obligation. Mass media and independent activism, whether at odds or in collaboration, provide the public with the majority of its information. Another avenue of interpretation that has provided profound insight despite frequent marginalization is artistic expression. At the Michigan Student Union Arts Lounge and running through the end of the month, “Darfour Drawn: The Conflict in Darfur Through Children’s Eyes,” allows visitors to understand the pressing situation in Sudan through possibly the most cathartic way available: the children living in the eye of the storm.
The exhibit is made possible by the national student group “Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.” Founded by Alison Barral in 2004 at Georgetown University, STAND is, in the words of RC Junior and group member, Margaret Glass, “a group of students committed to bringing more awareness to campus about the genocide.” The group is collaborating with Human Rights Watch researchers Dr. Annie Sparrow and Olivier Bercault, who were sent to Sudan to document the ongoing atrocities resulting from attacks on the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa and other ethnic groups.
The government is believed to be involved in at least some of the attacks, since there have been air raids and other acts of violence utilizing machines of war that are probably under the government’s control. The ramifications of these actions include scores of decimated villages, countless rape cases and the disenfranchisement of at least two-million Sudanese. During Sparrow and Bercault’s interviews with parents, teachers and refugee camp leaders, the researchers asked children to draw whatever they felt. It produced a highly emotional body of art that directly deals with the war through children’s eyes.
The exhibit consists of reproductions of the children’s art, and has been circling through the country with Human Rights Watch. Each image is as emotionally intense as the next. Their simplicity and straightforwardness only enhance this feeling. Common images throughout the drawings include planes unloading bombs on villages, camels and horses carrying machine gunners and general scenes of soldiers pillaging and murdering. There are even direct references to rape, seen in 13-year-old Mahmoud’s drawing of government soldiers taking women by the hand, with dead bodies littering the foreground. The realization that these images are inspired by eyewitness accounts is heartbreaking. The viewer is unavoidably drawn into the nightmarish world these children must live in, and the overwhelming sense of despair in these drawings looms over the display. The children’s names have been changed to protect them, but such a measure seems pointless if the scenes represented in their art are daily realities.
The images are monumental in their appeal to the basic human concern for children and for the innocent. Personal security seems trite when regarding the illustrations, and the exigency of the situation is clear. Although Glass admitted, “It’s really difficult to be able to relate to people we have nothing in common with,” she went on to emphasize that “there is (a sense of) a shared humanity.”
An exhibit such as this might not seem ideal for a quick stop after a cup of coffee, but students and locals alike should understand the importance of this exhibit and what it represents. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This rings especially true with this exhibit in mind. As long as atrocities such as the crisis in Darfur continues to go unchecked, the children of each generation will continue to produce images such as these and carry memories of blood and hatred for the rest of their lives.