Exhibition brings Darfur close to home

By mlekovic

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie is the temporary home to a new traveling photo exhibition about genocide in Darfur that will be on display through November before it is returned back to Holocaust Museum Houston.

The photos, taken by several photographers from around the world, including Sven Torfinn, Ron Haviv, Colin Finlay and Pep Bonet, portray the violence many Sudanese people experience due to the genocide they are faced with.

“Darfur: Photojournalists Respond” is the first traveling exhibition that the museum has installed since it opened on April 19. The exhibition comes from Holocaust Museum Houston and is supported by the McCormick Foundation­, a branch of the former Freedom Museum in Chicago, which closed last March.

The exhibition displays more than 20 photographs of villages, people and soldiers in Darfur.

“This exhibition was two years in the making,” said Kelley Szany, associate director of education at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. “[We were] thinking about what kind of exhibit we wanted to bring to the museum first and understanding that we are not only a holocaust museum but a museum that recognizes past and current genocides. We thought that this exhibition would make a good statement.”

The photos in the exhibit portray different stages of war and genocide in Darfur and show how photojournalists have responded to the issues in that area since 2003.

“2003 is when the United States government and most others, except for the United Nations, recognized what’s going on [and defined it as genocide],” Szany said.

According to Szany, France, Russia and China are purchasing natural resources such as minerals and oil from the Darfur region, which is funding the Khartoum government in Sudan.

The government and other coalitions are responsible for more than 1 million deaths in Darfur since 2003. These groups are also responsible for recruiting child soldiers and committing other acts of violence against civilians.

“I don’t think genocide will end in my generation,” Szany said. “There needs to come a point where not just the United States, but the entire world says ‘Enough.”

Some governments have a hard time identifying what genocide is and that’s why many people, along with the media, find the issues difficult to deal with, Szany said.

Bethany Fleming, director of collections and exhibitions at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, worked in partnership with Holocaust Museum Houston to make sure that the photojournalism display came to Illinois.

The photojournalists’ response to Darfur reiterates the fact that the people photographed are real and what’s going on in Darfur is current.

“A lot of people care when they hear about things like Darfur, but I don’t think a lot of people realize that they can do something,” Fleming said. “These are things that happened in the past, that are in the past, but are now current. It’s important to us to teach people what the universal essence of things like the Holocaust and other genocides are and how to apply that to our everyday lives.”

Emily Diamond-Falk, media relations manager for the Save Darfur Coalition, said she believes that it is incredibly important to be aware of what is going on.

“[The photographs] help connect people to the conflict and helps them see what is going on,” Diamond-Falk said. “It’s also important to know that the photographs not only show the suffering, but also show the life and survival there. It’s important to see that life goes on and that people are trying to live through this.”

People in Darfur continue to live in dangerous situations and some have escaped to neighboring Chad in hopes of finding shelter and peace.

Diamond-Falk said people can contact their local representatives, sign petitions and speak out so action can be taken. It’s about engaging in activism and making their voices heard, she said.

Students all across the U.S. are becoming more involved as well.

Daniel Teweles, the national student coordinator for Genocide Intervention Network, got involved with genocide awareness because he has a background in student advocacy.

Teweles’ grandparents are survivors of the Holocaust — another reason why he is involved with genocide awareness.

“They were the only members of the family left living, and I think just the awareness of that has imbued me with the necessity of making a difference and trying to better the world that we live in,” Teweles said. “It’s irresponsible and negligent of us not to take notice.”

Awareness is the first step and once everyone knows what’s going on, people can start making a change.

For more information about the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and the Darfur photo exhibit, please visit HolocaustMuseum.org. If you would like to visit the museum, it’s located on 9603 Woods Drive in Skokie, Ill.