‘One Million Bones’ raises public awareness of genocide

Courtesy of onemillionbones.com
As a final project for their “Human Rights and Atrocities” course, three students are bringing the “One Million Bones” project to the college, aiming to raise awareness of genocide.

Spearheaded by a group of students in this semester’s philosophy course “Human Rights and Atrocities,” a workshop focused on different perceptions of genocide will be held tomorrow in Kohlberg’s Scheuer room.

The workshop will begin with a presentation by Sana Musasama, a ceramic artist and art professor in New York, on the work she has been doing in response to the Khmer Rouge genocides in Cambodia. After the lecture, the event’s attendees will be making bones using newspaper, wire and plaster for “One Million Bones,” an international education project that will collect one million artwork bones from people across the world for an art installation designed to recognize the millions that have been victims of genocide. The event will conclude with a discussion on perceptions of genocide and a reflection of the project.

Vija Lietuvninkas ’14, Alyson Passanante ’14 and Marina Tucktuck ’13 created the event as a final project for their philosophy course. According to Professor Krista Thomason, who teaches the course, students could either produce an event that would raise awareness about genocide or write a paper.
“We have a lot of speakers come on campus, and they have a lot of great things to say, but we wanted to do more than a talk, something that was more community-based,” Lietuvninkas said.

Lietuvninkas met Musasama on a trip with the art department to New York, where she saw the her show “Unknown Unnamed,” a response to various forms of human suffering. Included were her pieces centered around the killing fields in Cambodia. Musasama’s memorable description of the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocides prompted Lietuvninkas to contact the artist and invite her to the college for the occasion.

“I will talk about the impact of genocide on this country [Cambodia] and the effect it had on the lives of its people to this very day … I will show my work and talk of its influences, how I made my choices based on what I experienced in Cambodia,” Musasama said in an e-mail.

According to Tucktuck, Musasama will be making the connection between art and genocide to set a framework for the succeeding art project the attendees will be engaging in.

“Art has this ability to help you understand yourself and the things around you in a more emotional and non-linear way … I thought that it would be cool to engage the Swarthmore community in an art project to represent the individual lives lost,” Lietuvninkas said.

The event will end with a discussion to reflect on the experience. According to Passanante, one of the things students had trouble with in class was that a lot of their education on genocides was very impersonal and statistical in nature. Early on in the course, it became very apparent that there existed a stark dichotomy between one person’s death being counted as a tragedy while the deaths of millions simply became a numerical statistic.

“We are hoping to tackle that [dichotomy] and the value of a human life,” Passanante said. “We want to investigate general perceptions of genocide and what we can do about it in an unaffected community, but also as part of the larger global community.”

Thomason said that she was pleased with the idea behind the project.

“It’s really great to see that students are thinking in new ways about genocide… In this case, trying to get a better grasp of it through the use of art,” she said. “That’s the point of the course.”

The event will take place tomorrow from 4:30-6:30 p.m. The bones produced will be sent to the “One Million Bones” project, originated by artist-activist Naomi Natale. They will be installed as a mass grave on Washington D.C.’s National Mall in the spring of 2013.

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