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A TRUTHFUL LENS

She is usually associated with abstract photographs that reveal human characteristics in nature, but Israeli artist Michal Ronnen Safdie stepped into a different role behind the lens of her camera when she traveled to Rwanda in October 2002 and to Chad in September 2004. In Rwanda, Safdie documented the Gacaca (pronounced ga-CHA-cha), traditional, citizen-based trials meant to bring criminals to justice and provide truth to survivors and victims of genocide; in Chad, Safdie visited a Bahai refugee camp located on the border of Sudan, where she captured images of refugees who escaped genocide in Darfur.

Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now is a traveling exhibition featuring some 40 color and black-and-white photographs that offer frank portraits of the horrors endured by their subjects. The show opens May 22 at the Skirball Cultural Center.

“I went to Rwanda because I was interested in seeing how they were dealing with the aftermath [of genocide]… but I’m not a photojournalist,” Safdie said in an interview with the Forward. “After Rwanda, I decided I couldn’t sit at home and let something like this happen. At first, we didn’t see many images [of Darfur], and I felt it was important for people to see the images.”

In an effort to create truthful representations of the scenes she witnessed, Safdie, who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, decided to use color film for many of the photographs. The result is startling and powerful. A deep-blue sky, brilliant sunshine and a sprawling desert provide a backdrop for images of human beings who have lost their entire families, who may never return home again, and whose unimaginable fates seem bleak and hopeless.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a variety of programs, including film screenings, dramatic performances, music and discussions with authors.

Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles; May 22-Oct. 1; Tue.-Sat. 12 p.m.-5 p.m.; Thu. 12 p.m.- 9 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; $8; $6 for seniors; free for members, students and children under 12. (310-440-4500 or www.skirball.org)

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