In front of a room at SMU's Meadows School of the Arts crammed with fine art and well-dressed folks sipping coffee, Ismail Omer gingerly approached a microphone. "I left Sudan in 1994," he began "I had friends who died in jail. I realized, I have to leave, or I die." Omer smoothed his pressed button-down shirt and started to explain the conflict in his native Darfur, a subject that quickly got complicated. Almost as soon as he had started, Omer cut himself off.
"There is very good art here," he concluded, with a sweeping gesture across the room. "What you're doing here, it means a lot to us, and to our people. Don't even think that what you do is very small. It is very big." Enthusiastic applause followed, and Omer smiled as he left the mike.
According to organizers Tiana Lightfoot and Kristin Schutz, this weekend marked the second annual Art for Darfur spring fundraiser. In 2007, Lightfoot, an SMU graduate student studying dispute resolution, helped start Art for Darfur out of a group of activists and students who "all wanted to do something for Darfur." Last year, Art for Darfur raised $10,000 for Amnesty International's humanitarian programs in Darfur.
According to Lightfoot, this year's event -- already halfway to its fund-raising goal, thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Save Darfur Coalition, a global alliance for Darfur activism -- would raise money through live and silent art auctions.
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After Omer's speech, Lightfoot and Schutz herded attendees into an adjoining hall. At the front of the room, performance and visual artist Kevin Obregon, dressed in a very clean red apron, took his place at a blank canvas while Tonya Burton, director of the Perkins Youth School of Theology, launched into a spoken-word performance, reading free verse about personal tragedy accompanying the unrest in Darfur. As Burton spoke, Obregon began to paint, outlining the shape of a face in lime-green; by the time Burton finished, it looked like a veiled, darker version of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When the live auction began, and Obregon's piece sold for $200.
The show's celebrity item was a piece by Mia Farrow with a photograph of African children superimposed on a black canvas and the words "I am here now ... What about tomorrow?" in white. Farrow's work, along with that of five other artists (including Izabella Lundberg and Aaron Cohen) are part of the traveling Exhibit Darfur, a national show aimed at raising awareness for the conflict in western Sudan. Proceeds from the auction went to Amnesty International's programs in Darfur, Sudan, where a years-long struggle among ethnic and religious groups has led to sustained violence and displacement.
Farrow's piece sold in the live auction for $350.