University displays Sudanese refugee art

‘Art from the Lost Boys of Sudan’ showcases the atrocities of genocide.

Paintings by Sudanese refugees that were formerly displayed at the Children’s Theatre Company have arrived at the University’s Katherine E. Nash Gallery.

where to go

Art from “The Lost Boys of Sudan”
what: Public Reception
when: Friday, 6 to 8:30 p.m. where: Katherine E. Nash Gallery
Runs June 19 through July 13

The exhibit, “Art from the Lost Boys of Sudan,” includes art by students from Southwest High School in Minneapolis. Their art is a response to seeing the refugees’ paintings and viewing the documentary “The Lost Boys of Sudan.”

“I hope having that response from high school students will draw more people,” said Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. “It provides a local focus.”

Feinstein, who helped bring the exhibit to the University, explained “The Lost Boys” refers to a group of several thousand Sudanese refugees, mostly boys and young men.

In 2001, they escaped the atrocities of Southern Sudan’s civil war when the United States granted them refugee status, he said.

The artists who painted the works in the exhibit are part of those “lost boys” and members of the African Refugee Artists Club. The club was established by people who had lived in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. The club’s mission, according to its Web site, is to bear witness, heal and renew through art.

“Oftentimes people can paint their experiences better than they can write or describe them,” Feinstein said. “So this art is like a visual memoir.”

The exhibit illustrates Feinstein’s point. Despite the vibrant colors and startling images found in the paintings, many remain untitled.

A woman standing in her underwear, crying as soldiers point guns at her and laugh is far from an abstract image, yet the artist gave it no title.

Though hosting exhibits with an artistic and social justice message is nothing new for the gallery, director Nick Shank said the exhibit is still powerful.

“It’s captivating; the idea of these boys who survived and at the same time, through ARAC, art has become a part of their lives,” Shank said. “These images really reflect their struggles.”

A note is posted on the wall of the exhibit, explaining the poor condition of the art.

“These works were rolled up and hand-carried from the Kakuma refugee camp to the United States,” it reads. “Hence, some have scars and paint deterioration Ö but are being displayed as a testament to survival.”

Gallery attendant Mina Bayani said that note is a strong metaphor.

“Normally the art comes well-packed in pristine condition,” she said. “The condition of these works really shows the conditions they came from.”

The struggles shown in the paintings done by the refugees are also reflected in the high school students’ work.

On the wall, short essays are posted beside the paintings, collages and prints – one student even created a video. The essays, written by the students, explain their art.

One student, Ricarda Kresse, summed up the impact the exhibit had on her with a simple but powerful message.

“War just shouldn’t be,” she wrote.