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Congo Women - essays

The Women of the Democratic Republic of Congo

have shown incredible bravery in the face of unbelievable atrocities, as evidenced by the photographs assembled in this exhibition. These women, along with their families, have survived a litany of atrocities: oppressive dictators; the violent passage to democracy; economic crises; and an ongoing struggle of regional and tribal warfare which has found its end far too slowly and with far too much bloodshed. These challenges have been accompanied by a devastating lack of both general and reproductive healthcare, HIV/AIDS, and the common occurrence of rape and extreme sexual violence against women and girls of all ages. For those who survive, support is often unavailable.

The photographs in this exhibition, taken by Lynsey Addario, Marcus Bleasdale, Ron Haviv and James Nachtwey, tell the story of daily life in the Congo – political, economic, cultural, medical and personal. These images are at once gorgeously composed, highly aesthetic, and full of humanity. At the same time, many are painfully saturated with human grief and suffering.

The essays that accompany the photographs provide a deeper background with which to understand their context. They address a human-made humanitarian crisis. This is not a natural disaster; it is our disaster as a global community.

This exhibition sheds light not only on the situation facing women of the Democratic Republic of Congo but on gender-based violence around the world and demonstrates why the arts have a powerful role as mirror and map to influence social change. Through the arts we create possibilities, identify necessities and shape our realities. In recognizing this phenomenon, we acknowledge a profound and far-reaching fact: art can encourage our greatest human capacity and can be the vehicle for the deepest of human expressions and actions.

We encourage you to look and to learn and then to act.

Leslie Thomas, Curator and Co-Director
Leslie Thomas is the founding Executive Director of Art Works Projects: Art and Design for Human Rights and a partner with the New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles based LARC Inc. and LARC Studio practices.

Jane M. Saks, Creative Advisor and Co-Director
Jane Saks is the founding Executive Director of the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media Columbia College Chicago, and a feminist activist, arts administrator, writer and educator.

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