by SAMANTHA HUNT
From Feb. 5-14, Columbia College in Chicago hosted the photography exhibit "Congo/Women Portraits of War: The Democratic Republic of Congo."
The exhibit—which featured the photography of photojournalists Lynsey Addario, Marcus Bleasdale, Ron Haviv and James Nachtwey—addresses the issue of sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo through 38 striking photos and six accompanying essays. Moreover, the horrors the women face are compounded by a lack of healthcare—which, among other things, contributes to the rise of HIV/AIDS in the country.
"This exhibition and educational initiative hopes to shed light not only on the current situation facing women of the DRC [ Democratic Republic of Congo ] , but on gender-based violence around the world and demonstrates why the arts have a powerful role as a mirror and map to influence social change," said Jane M. Saks, co-director and creative advisor of the exhibit. "I believe art creates beauty, invites discovery, stimulates reflections, generates self-knowledge, promotes debate and challenges and shifts paradigms. This is how my co-director, Leslie Thomas, and I hope visitors to the exhibit will respond: they will look, learn and then act."
The exhibit's moving photos are meant to open the eyes of the viewers and, hopefully, inspire big steps in the direction of change, for the United States as well as the DRC.
When asked about the steps needed to make the images of the exhibit a thing of the past, Saks said, "As a society we need to declare that gender-based violence is not acceptable and that we are willing to act on that declaration in terms of our personal actions, attitudes and education, policy creation, gender socialization, and legal systems."
Attendees of the exhibit will be able to receive more information on how to help the situation in the DRC through a resource space and the Congo/WOMEN exhibit Web site ( www.congowomen.org ) . They will be able to get information on how to bring the problem to the attention of public representatives and learn about organizations dedicated to helping the cause.
"Historically, as far back as anyone can go, we see that gender-based violence has been used as a destructive tool to undermine social systems,
devastate families, deeply injure women and girls of all ages physically, emotionally and spiritually," Saks said. "It is a global epidemic and needs to be understood in that context." While the images in the exhibit do not depict any sexual violence towards women, the effects are surely visible. The pain, fear, and even strength these women develop through the hardships they face is clear in their expressions, and the viewer can almost see the atmosphere the women are living in.