Art and Atrocity: Darfur’s Smallest Witnesses
Art therapy works because it focuses on utilizing the inherent nonverbal messages that result from creativity. While this truth is known to some, it has had difficulty becoming respected and validated in many arenas, including the court system. Not too long ago, Dr. Annie Sparrow happened to take some crayons and paper with her as she joined the Human Rights Watch in investigating the realities of the people of Darfur, Sudan. What she found more immediately than the spilling of tragic words was a growing volume of disturbing images, as the children gravitated to retelling their narratives on paper. Though the children wore a protective smile and upbeat demeanor, their images captured the unspeakable truth. This resulted in the Smallest Witnesses Project, a collection of art that stood in court as valid testimony to the war crimes, leading to the conviction of key players in the acts of genocide in Sudan. This was a monumental occasion for the field of art therapy, as the court accepted the honesty held within the artwork. It also brought hope to the nonverbal testimonies of other expressive mediums, specifically those of children.
Google “Darfur’s Smallest Witnesses” to learn about or view this collection and hear Dr. Sparrow speak about her experience. While she is not an art therapist, she, like many others, experienced the powerful ability of art to narrate, expose, and contain vulnerable information. Her experience reminds us that across cultural barriers, art has the power to speak louder than words.
Please remember that brain research and trauma workers overall attest that images are harder to forget than words. Take care of your own psychological health by moderating your exposure to these drawings and other disturbing images as needed. Lastly, remember that people speak through what they create, and it is sometimes through their creation that we receive the plea, “Ask me to tell my story.”