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Toward Greater Awareness: exhibit raises awareness for Darfur

By Gillie Houston Special to the Chronicle

The Hofstra University Museum is hosting an homage to one of the most catastrophic humanitarian crises in modern history. Large clay and bronze statues take on a stark and brutal beauty, and the powerful emotions they represent and recreate are apparent to anyone who witnesses this extraordinary work. In Toward Greater Awareness: Darfur and American Activism, on exhibit  at the Emily Lowe Gallery, the acclaimed artist Mitch Lewis shines a light of awareness on the genocide in Darfur and uses his work to highlight the humanitarian abuses occurring in Sudan today.

The conflict in Darfur began in western Sudan in 2003 when Darfuri rebel groups attacked Sudanese military installations. The government responded with the creation of a militia known as the Janjaweed, who carried out attacks against the Darfuri ethnic groups. These attacks resulted in an unparalleled humanitarian crisis. The number of civilian casualties and villages destroyed were overwhelming and millions fled, causing mass population displacement and deteriorated living conditions for the Darfuri people. It is estimated that since the start of this crisis, 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million refugees have been displaced.

In 2004, President Bush officially declared the attacks in Sudan a “genocide,” which caused an outpouring of outrage from people across the world towards the Sudanese regime. However, despite movement towards peace treaties and an indictment of Sudan’s president for war crimes in 2009, violence still continues to this day, and countless civilians and international aid workers in Sudan live in fear of the horrible violence that continues within their nation.

Lewis’ passion has been helping the victims of Sudan for years, and he has focused much of his life’s work on highlighting this brutality and violence in hope of bringing about change. In 2010 the artist received the Save Darfur Coalition’s first-ever Darfur Hero Award and received several other awards and accolades for his work on the subject. Lewis’ work utilizes terra cotta, bronze, resins, and wire to recreate the human form with a focus on humanitarian and socio-political issues.

The sampling of work on display now in the University gallery is some of Lewis’ most powerful work. Many of his pieces feature haunting figures, many faceless, and yet taking on an eerie lifelike quality of movement. In his piece “Darfur Legacy 3,” a fragmented female form towers overhead, appearing battered and vulnerable, but unbroken. This, along with the artist’s other Darfur Legacy statues, is a homage to the brutal violence against Sudanese women.

In another multimedia work, “Homage to Kevin Carter,” Lewis recreates the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a vulture lingering near a starving Sudanese child, as if awaiting his death. For this work, Lewis creates a multimedia experience by displaying scenes of violence on a television screen next to the statue of the child.

These are just two examples of the powerful work that can be viewed in the Toward Greater Awareness: Darfur and American Activism exhibit. The work is on display now through December 7th in the Emily Lowe Gallery, which is open Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.

Kevin Lewis’ work highlighting the horrific humanitarian crisis in Darfur is a beautiful and brutal look at a conflict that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions from their homes. In Lewis’s own words, “art has always been a compelling agent for creating public awareness of social issues, and ultimately bringing about change.” To witness this change and be a part of it, visit the Emily Lowe Gallery now to view the artist’s brilliant work that strives to make a difference in the lives of the millions of Sudanese still living in fear and horror today.

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