Darfur at Our Doorstep: A New Narrative exhibit, reception in Camden
CAMDEN — El-Fadel Arbab escaped genocide in Darfur, Sudan when he was 12 and is now an American citizen. He speaks out against genocide and injustice that is happening in the Sudan and elsewhere. His story was transcribed into the drawings of Kenny Cole, whose exhibit "Darfur at Our Doorstep: A New Narrative" is on display at Zoot Coffee, in Camden.
Arbab and Cole will be present at Zoot Coffee, Saturday, Feb. 23, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., to discuss Cole’s artwork, recent developments in Sudan, and answer questions about the migration crisis across the world.
Cole’s show consists of two groupings of framed drawings, one of which was first exhibited in 2011 at the Meg Perry Center in Portland, Maine and another which was first exhibited in 2017 as a part of the Portland Public Library's "150 Years: PPL Reconfigured".
Together these two bodies of work, bridge the contentious gap, between past injustices and those ongoing on today’s global stage, that those of African origin and African heritage, might hopefully close and find commonality from.
"Darfur at Our Doorstep"
Cole recorded an interview with El Fadel Arbab, about what it was like to grow up in the Darfur region of the Sudan. El Fadel had to flee his village at age 12 after his home was attacked and burned. He survived on his own for four years and eventually made his way to the U.S. with his mother and some siblings.
In 2010 he became a U.S. citizen. El Fadel now speaks around the country about the plight of his people.
Cole said, in a news release: “For this series of drawings I began by looking up the word "Sudan" in the dictionary. I soon started to discover many other words on the same page as “Sudan” that seemed to fit into this story. I then decided to make each word into an acronym of my own design to further guide the word’s meaning toward my purpose. I then wove parts of my interview with El Fadel into the acronym's words. Additionally I included the history of Chevron oil, which was the first oil company to discover oil in the Sudan and which has since left the Sudan; a speech given by the late John Garang upon the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan in 2005; text from the Darfur Peace Agreement and finally statistics on weapons used by the Sudan military.
"150 Years: PPL Reconfigured"
The inspiration for the contribution to "150 Years: PPL Reconfigured" came from the collection of hundreds of letters saved after the great fire of 1866 in Portland, Maine, which he discovered via the Portland Public Library’s Digital Commons. The Library has a cataloged list of every item in this collection, with a handful of image scans, all online.
“Thus I was immediately attracted to the beautiful cursive handwriting that was common in 1866, having had incorporated hand script myself, using a dip pen, in past artwork of mine (See Archive 2009 - 2002/Prison Papers),” he said.
He then visited the archive room to view and photograph dozens of letters in order to study the variety of cursive styles.
“Further research online, of the description of the day of the fire, began to reveal strange coincidences and symbolic overtones to me; the fire occurred on the Fourth of July, the first Fourth after the end of the Civil War and the cry of “FIRE” was made by William Wilberforce Ruby, a local merchant who would eventually become one of the first African-American officers in the Portland Fire Department. Then after perusing the list and descriptions of hundreds of letters, written in sympathy towards those suffering loss of home and livelihood, I found a scathing, bitter note* from the south, expressing contempt and just deserts towards this northern city, against the destruction and loss of life endured within the writer’s home state of Alabama during the war.
“Now I had my touchstone with which to “reconfigure” the Portland Public Library’s collection. Who are the contemporary “Portland Sufferers” and who are their detractors? The parallels between the current phenomenon of African immigration to the Portland region since the early 2000’s, the under story of African slavery as one of the narratives of our national division and civil war and a fire occurring on the most important celebratory day in our nation, guided me to explore contemporary hate speech and the problems of patriotism and ex-patriotism all reconfigured as old, worn, singed artifacts.”
Zoot Coffee is open Thursday - Tuesday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.