Home Arts Illuminating Darfur tragedy through photography

Illuminating Darfur tragedy through photography

by Maria Bukreev September 22, 2015
Illuminating Darfur tragedy through photography

As part of “Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal”, The Knights of the Devil informs viewers about the Sudanese conflict

An interesting aspect of The Knights of the Devil is that if a viewer is unaware of what is represented, the exhibited images can appear as just run-of-the-mill artsy fare.

But from the moment it becomes clear that the multiple bright parts actually show the ruins and ashes of what were previously entire villages, the photos lose their soothing characteristic.

The Knights of the Devil is Pugin’s contribution to Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal, the theme of which, this year, is the “post-photographic condition” and whose guest curator is none other than Joan Fontcuberta, the famous contemporary photographer.

Gallerygoers perusing Pugin’s enlightening work. Photo by Kelsey Litwin.

Gallerygoers perusing Pugin’s enlightening work. Photo by Kelsey Litwin.

Art can be a powerful tool to convey feelings and opinions. In times of war, art has been known to promote political actions or to denounce them. In such times, be it the Spanish Civil War or WWI-era Germany, one of the functions of art was to inform and influence people, which often resulted in artists being censored should they disagree with their political leaders, as in the case of Otto Dix, the German painter known for his hellish depictions of war.

As explained in the video played repeatedly throughout the exhibit, the luminous traces indicate the places where the Janjaweed—an active militia in Darfur referred to as “the knights of the devil”—have robbed and burned entire villages while violently killing inhabitants. Some may argue that it could be questionable to present such horror in a fairly soft way. However, the artist’s intention is to shock the viewer by showing a sad and horrendously underreported reality.

Nowadays, even though art has evolved in terms of technique, the artist’s power to share their views remains and can even be encouraged.

Pugin is a Swiss artist and photographer, most known for using the light painting method in which the camera’s sensor is directly exposed to the light for a longer amount of time, emphasizing the bright elements and creating interesting effects. His works are featured in collections across the world, notably in the U.S., Switzerland and France, where he currently lives.

A result of Pugin’s method of draining and reversing colours.

A result of Pugin’s method of draining and reversing colours. Photo by Kelsey Litwin.

The Knights of the Devil, is all about informing the viewer of the tragedy happening in Darfur, where a war—qualified as a genocide by the American government—has brought destruction and misery. Darfur is located in western Sudan and there is very limited access to reporters who want to cover the conflict.

The lack of information on the issue pushed the photographer to find an alternative way to illustrate the tragedy.

Through this exhibit, Pugin decided to try something new and work with photographs that weren’t taken by him. What makes the exhibit rather unusual is that Pugin used pictures taken from Google Earth and changed their appearance. He proceeded first by draining the colors and then reversing them, which resulted in a dark background scattered with numerous light spots that resembles the galaxy.

Pugin, who has been experimenting with photography and other media in order to show the negative impacts of humans on nature, seemingly hopes that this exhibit will be able to voice some of the unacceptable incidents that are happening in isolated places such as Darfur.

Most of all, one can hope that the message conveyed by Pugin’s art is loud enough to encourage people to not form opinions about international conflict based on first impressions and to reach below the surface of the images they see and stories they read.

The Knights of the Devil, presented at the Phi Centre, runs until Oct. 10. Entrance is free.

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