Art Notes: Photo exhibition brings tragedy of Darfur into sharp focus

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One reason David Stanger, director of the American Jewish Museum in Squirrel Hill, decided to make "If My Eyes Speak: Photographs by Adam Nadel" his first curated show was its timeliness. Another was the intensity of the imagery.

A photograph of Amam Bohiger, a Darfur refugee, from the exhibition "If My Eyes Speak: Photographs by Adam Nadel" at the American Jewish Museum, Squirrel Hill. Ruth Messinger, president and executive director of American Jewish World Service, will speak tonight about her experiences in Darfur.
Click photo for larger image.

The exhibition comprises 30 portraits of people who have been subjected to -- or in some cases perpetuated -- the violence in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. The images are "contemporary manifestations of genocide," Stanger says, selected from Nadel's "noncombatant series."

The color digital photographs are each 18 inches square and, unframed, seem to float off the wall, Stanger says. Background is kept minimal so that the focus is on the subject. "[Nadel] has a very interesting way of relating the figures to the larger space they are in," Stanger says. "They almost glow," projecting an "otherworldly" or "spiritual" quality.

Long exposures make for a "clarity of image" that emphasizes the subjects' eyes and their relationship to the camera. "The gaze of the photographed is really quite potent," Stanger says, explaining that the effect is part of Nadel's goal to "connect people to people."

Sometimes that's achieved with downcast eyes, as is the case with Darfur refugee Amam Bohiger, who is Madonna-like as she looks at the child tucked within her star-studded blue robe.

Accompanying the photographs are excerpts from interviews with those portrayed. Bohiger says, for example, "It is too dangerous to live near the well, in the town, so I stay in the mountains under the trees with my children. I have lived in the mountains since the last attack. Over a month under the trees. It takes two and a half hours to walk here for the water. Then I must return."

Stanger began working on the exhibition about a year ago, a few months after arriving at the museum. "I wanted it to be my first exhibition mostly because Darfur is such a timely issue -- something that needs to have attention. There's a cease-fire now. We'll see how that goes."

But there's another element to the exhibition's significance concerning "personal decisions and standing up for what we believe is right" that appealed to Stanger. There are threads that run though it that recall "conversations that hark back to post-World War II, such as 'I never imagined my neighbors would have done this to me,'" he says.

Nadel is a New York freelance photographer who previously worked for the Associated Press and continues to provide images for publications such as Time magazine and British newspapers. He was awarded the World Press Photo's first prize in 2005 for his Darfur work, and was a recent Pulitzer Prize nominee for his New York Times Iraq series, "The Face of Sacrifice."

Complementing the photographs is an educational video from the Save Darfur Coalition. The exhibition runs through Sunday at 5738 Darlington Ave., Squirrel Hill.

At 7 tonight, Ruth W. Messinger, president and executive director of American Jewish World Service -- a New York-based world relief organization -- will speak at the museum on "Not on Our Watch: The Genocide in Darfur and the Jewish Response." Messinger, who was in Darfur in August 2004 and October 2005, will show photographs taken during those visits and discuss steps toward a solution. (Free; reservations encouraged at 412-521-8011, ext. 234.)

The Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition, which Stanger has worked with, is sponsoring a Midatlantic States March and Rally to Stop Genocide in Darfur on April 28; for information, www.pittsburghdarfur.org.

'Espace et Surface'

Parisian photographer Bruno Requillart will give a free lecture in French at 4:30 p.m. today in the Giant Eagle Auditorium, Baker Hall, CMU. A reception for his exhibition "Paris on the Seine: Photographs by Bruno Requillart" will be held from 4-6 p.m. Saturday at Silver Eye Center for Photography, South Side. ($7; information, 412-431-1810).

Explore Japanese culture

Performances and a talk complement "The Prints of Tsukioka Kogyo," an exhibition of woodblock prints inspired by Japanese Noh theater, at The Frick Art Museum.

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, a Japanese Noh theater performance for K-12 students will be held at the Frick, after which actor Hisa Uzawa will speak with the children (free; school groups must register, 412-371-0600). At 7 p.m. Friday, the classic Noh play "Aoi no Ue" will be presented at the Charity Randall Theater, University of Pittsburgh (admission). At noon Friday, Uzawa will speak on the life of a female actor in a profession dominated by men, in Posvar Hall, Room 4130, Pitt (free; 412-648-7370).

Fiberart events

This may be the year that "Pittsburgh Celebrates Glass," but fiber arts will also be abundant. "Fiberart International 07," the cosmopolitan, now triennial, production of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, opens April 13 at the Society for Contemporary Craft and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

The Guild has compiled, under the heading "Focus on Fiber," 32 fiber-related exhibitions and activities spread throughout the year and located as near as the North Side and as far as Athens, Ohio (the prestigious "Quilt National"). For information, visit www.fiberartinternational.org.


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas may be reached at mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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