Wednesday, May 9

Darfur & the Representation of Atrocity

I conceived of and put together the images in this post almost exactly one year ago. It would have continued to collect dust in my hard drive had it not been for the latest issue of NEED magazine which also featured the artwork of war-afflicted children.

The concept began simply enough. I was researching the genocide in Darfur for a post and wanted to find the appropriate imagery. But the more and more I saw, the less and less I felt capable of coherent comment or action. To make matters worse, new death tolls were coming out almost weekly at this point, each new figure more and more humbling.

The problem I had was that none of the photographs coming out of Darfur could convey the emotion behind the circumstance. There was something missing. Then I came across a website that was publishing the drawings of child refugees in counseling. The children had reportedly not been prompted to draw images about war or strife, this was their subconscious doodling.

Having just poured through hundreds of photographs depicting the conflict, I was immediately stricken by the raw immediacy the drawings possessed. The photographs I kept seeing portrayed genocide in a past tense, but in the drawings, the atrocities being committed were happening before my eyes, as if in real time.

When I put drawing and photograph together I began to see a more complete story, both present and past, both real and imagined, and somehow so much more then the sum of their parts. And I suppose that is what led me to finally putting them up today: thinking about how we represent and relate to such atrocities when they are happening, right now - in the present tense, half way around the world.

Looking at these again, the question I asked myself was “Why did I feel so ashamed by the juxtaposition I had created, enough so to pack it away, not able to think about it again for a full year?” I think I might have an (at least partial) answer:

By making the relationship between what had happened and what was presently happening more understandable, I had subconsciously realized the difference between "I could have done something", and "I should be doing something."

The photographs in this post were all taken by Brian Steidle, the drawings are by the children of Darfur.

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