Schatten Gallery exhibit explores the plight of `Children at War'

In the last 10 years, more than 5 million children have been killed or permanently maimed in civil and international wars. Millions more have lost their parents, homes and schools. In at least 20 countries, children as young as 10 years of age have been conscripted to fight as soldiers.

The exhibition, "Innocents: The Trials and Triumphs of Children at War" in Wood-ruff Library's Schatten Gallery, addresses the plight of these children of war by juxtaposing their stories against those of children in U.S. urban areas, creating a display of children living in literal and figurative war experiences. Psychologists now recognize that children living in war zones bear a striking parallel with the children of inner cities. The suffering of America's urban children is often underscored by the absence of "resilience factors," such as family support, religious faith and positive social networks.

"`Innocents' seeks to capture in book form and in this exhibition at Emory, the faces and words of these children of war around the world and in the United States," said author Barbara R. Thompson. "Using environmental portraits and first-person stories, the project will give audiences a profoundly personal encounter with dozens of courageous, insightful children."

Brief reflections from field workers and child psychologists will address the broader issues of trauma, recovery, conflict resolution and community restoration. The project's long-term goal is to help audiences break through "compassion fatigue" and take effective action by which a child's life can be transformed by a single, caring adult.

A collaboration between Thompson and former Emory photographer J.D. Scott, the project is a work in progress, expected to take almost two years to complete. The Emory exhibit will include portraits and interviews that tell of great courage, resiliency and often the immense pain and suffering these children have endured.

Croatian children Ivana, 7 years old, and her 5-year-old brother Ivan are the subject of one photograph. Their story, titled "Life Together," is short but profound:

When I lived with my grandmother, I liked to help her carry firewood and branches. Sometimes my daddy helped us, but then the war came, and they took him away from me. Now he lives in a concentration camp. When the war is over, I would like to build a big house. I will be a teacher, and we will all live together.

--Ivan Dostal, 5

My mother left us a long time ago, and when the war started, our father went away to be a soldier. He said he wanted to die, because our mother wouldn't take care of him. He got his wish; the army made his grave somewhere. My brother has a big imagination. They told him that our father is dead, but he always says that daddy is a prisoner and he is coming home again. I like living in the children's home; it is the nicest place I have ever lived. I can sleep here. I like feeding the rabbit and taking care of my brother and the other children. I give them love so that they will not lose themselves.

--Ivana Dostal, 7

The exhibit, which runs through Dec. 1, previously has been shown in Atlanta at The Carter Center, at the 1996 "Children First: A Global Forum," sponsored by the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, and as part of the Artist Free Zone at 7 Stages Theatre during the 1996 Olympic Arts Festival.

--Joyce Bell

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