December 18, 2018

Darfur Horrors in Black and White

What at first glance appears to be the most artless of photographs is also the most haunting.

Two tall white garbage sacks lean against a brick church in Rwanda, below tattered posters and next to a frieze of “The Last Supper,” as if waiting for the next pickup collection.

A second look reveals that the full sacks are overflowing with human skulls.

We don’t know how long the sacks have been standing there, perhaps ever since 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were brutally slaughtered in Rwanda a dozen years ago.

The photo is among 41 in the exhibit “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs by Michal Ronnen Safdie” at the Skirball Cultural Center through Oct. 1.

Ronnen Safdie, a Jerusalem native, traveled to post-genocide Rwanda in 2002 with author Samantha Power to document the deliberations of citizen tribunals finally judging the lesser perpetrators of the genocide.

Two years later, she took her camera to the Baha’i refugee camp on the Sudan-Chad border, where 18,000 women and children, fleeing the ongoing Darfur killings, were trying to survive in the midst of a barren desert.

Without reveling in the misery, but with unblinking honesty, Ronnen Safdie shows a baby with its grandmother, the family’s sole survivors, and the careworn, sad-eyed faces of two women.

The world met the Rwanda genocide with almost total indifference and only now is waking up to the horror of Darfur — attitudes which inevitably bring back memories of the Holocaust.

“When I was a child, I understood the cry ‘Never Again’ only in a Jewish context,” observed Uri D. Herscher, the Skirball’s founding president and CEO. “But ‘Never Again’ applies to all genocides. By passive observation of the murder of defenseless millions of men, women and children, we ourselves become accomplices.”

While Ronnen Safdie, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, conducted reporters through the exhibit, standing discreetly in the background was her husband, architect Moshe Safdie, who designed the Skirball Center, among numerous other landmarks.

During its run, the exhibition will be accompanied by readings, lectures, concerts, films, theatrical performances, and classes.

For more information, call (310) 440-4500 or visit