25 November 2006

“Darfur: Who Will Survive Today?”

The U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC has over the past week marked the Thanksgiving holiday by exploiting its prominent location to confront Americans with the realities of genocide in Darfur. The Museum has projected images made by the photographers affiliated with the Darfur/Darfur exhibition onto its exterior walls from 5:30 pm until midnight each evening. (The projections will conclude tomorrow evening.) The image shown above is © Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post, and depicts passersby looking at some of the images being projected onto the building.

You can find my remarks on the Darfur/Darfur project in this earlier post. Although projections like this are not unprecendented - Krzysztof Wodiczko, most famously has undertaken a number of them - this seems like a rather bold step for an institution such as the Holocaust Museum to take. Yet, while I applaud the USHM for the novel approach it is adopting here (this is the first such projection it has undertaken), my question remains the same - what sorts of action are the images themselves meant to induce viewers to undertake? The Museum states that "Our Walls Bear Witness," which is true and important. Having drawn viewers' attention to the genocide, though, the basic question remains - what would the Museum or the photographers have us do? I ask not to criticize but to engage. Humanitarian responses treat consequences and are crucially important, but if we aim to stop genocide we must disrupt its causes. Can the Museum or the not-for-profits who are underwriting the exhibition challenge us to act politically or does their tax status prevent them from so doing? And, if any effective remedy for the Darfur genocide is political, what steps can we take toward effecting one?

PS: Here is a predicament creatd by having this projection mounted by a Museum - even one aimed at memorializing the Holocaust and educating visitors about current genocides, actual or threatened. While the Washington Post published a news story on the projection (11/21/06, C1) it also then included the "exhibit" in its column listing things to do in "The District," right there between an announcement for a "Holiday in Brazil" concert and a notice about several events and exhibitions focusing on Elvis Presley (11/23/06, C16).

PS2: (Added 26 November 2006) For a start toward grasping the the political complexities involved in Darfur see this essay by Alex de Waal from the London Review of Books.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, it took the majority of Americans six years to stop voting against their own best interests. And even now Democrats are loathe to demand accountability.
Darfur demands direct political action; they themselves remind us that sending more bandaids (that they will be prevented from getting) accomplishes little. Americans are quite altruistic when it comes to handing out charity, but when it comes to responsible political action...

26 November, 2006 12:36  

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