Shed Light, Show Your Bones: Art Project Teaches About Tragedies of Genocide


When one thinks of the term ‘mass grave’, the words ‘artistic’ and ‘symbolic’ aren’t typically the first that come to mind. Through the creation of one million little clay bones, artist Naomi Natale hopes to shift the dialogue of tragedy to one of hope and optimism.

The One Million Bones social arts project relies on education and building large-scale art installations to raise awareness about genocides and atrocities in Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Burma.

“We never cease to be amazed at how many people have only a vague notion of what genocide is, and how many more have no idea it’s happening today,” as stated on the project’s website. “At One Million Bones we are committed to leveraging the power of art to inspire activism.”

The project, founded in 2010, aims to collect a million handmade bones throughout the country for an installation in the national mall in Washington, D.C. The money raised from each event funds organizations working toward ending genocide and providing emergency and housing resources for its victims.

The USF community and visiting second grade students from the Saint Anthony-Immaculate Conception School created 86 bones when the project came to campus last Tuesday, raising $86 for the art project. For every bone created, $1 is donated by the Bezos Family Foundation to CARE, a charity that fights global poverty. The Foundation supports learning environments for students from elementary through high school, and works in partnership with One Million Bones.

Shawn Doubiago, professor of comparative literature and culture, brought the project to USF  after hearing about it at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) earlier this year. The significance of bones resonated with Doubagio. “We all have bones. They are the physical elements that all humans have that link us as a humanity,” she said.

Once all the bones are fired, Doubagio said, they will be sent to Washington, D.C. where the installation will be on display from June 8 through June 10. As of January 2013, 500,000 bones have been crafted. “In their own way, each one of these students is participating by making a bone and becoming part of this larger movement,” said Doubagio. As she explained, the Washington installation goes beyond raising awareness for today’s genocides, but is also a symbolic reminder of the genocides of the past.

To bring the vision of One Million Bones to USF, Doubagio enlisted the help of her student Veronica Tolliver, a junior comparative studies major with a cultural emphasis. “I was living in Europe where I had been doing research on Africa and how these atrocities are going on in the present,” said Tolliver, who is doing a directed study on trauma with Doubagio. “Collecting bones will show that there is so much suffering abroad and will be a step toward solving and resolving.”

Senior Linette Togami, a comparative literature major and teacher assistant to Doubagio, said the project compelled her to research more about the atrocities happening in Burma. “I didn’t know there was war going on in [Burma] and I didn’t know that people were being targeted for religious reasons,” she said. Generating wider knowledge of current human rights violations, as Togami did is one of the goals of the One Million Bones project. “Society knows the general gist of these issues, but a lot of people don’t understand what’s really going on,” said Tolliver.





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