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One more appearance for 'The Disappeared'

A human rights symposium that coincides with the last showing of "The Disappeared" art exhibit in the North Dakota Museum of Art will begin Sunday and feature an author who wrote about his experience as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone.

Long Way Gone

A human rights symposium that coincides with the last showing of "The Disappeared" art exhibit in the North Dakota Museum of Art will begin Sunday and feature an author who wrote about his experience as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone.

In "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," Ishamael Beah tells a story of fleeing attacking soldiers at age 12 in Sierra Leone and being picked up by the government army. Traumatized and hopped up on drugs, he became a killer with an AK-47.

Eventually released, Beah was sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center, where he struggled to re-enter the world of civilians. Since coming to live in America and writing his book, he's become a spokesman for the devastating effects of war on children.

The Human Rights Conference in Grand Forks is scheduled for Sunday through Wednesday, and Beah is scheduled to be here Monday. Events will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday in the North Dakota Museum of Art with a guided tour of "The Disappeared" exhibit. Curator of the exhibit and director of NDMOA, Laurel Reuter, will lead the tour.

NDMOA, which first opened "The Disappeared" in March 2005, has said this will be the last time the exhibit will be seen before the items in it are dispersed. In the four years since it opened, "The Disappeared" has been seen in New York City (where it won praise from the The New York Times) and has been to Washington, D.C.; Texas; New Mexico and Wyoming.


It's also been to Argentina, Uruguay, Guatemala, Chile and Colombia, the countries whose history it tells,

"I think that the most important art exhibition opening that I will ever attend in my life was in Guatamala," Reuter said. The opening almost didn't happen. In December 2007, Reuter had been to Guatemala to negotiate the opening with its sponsors. By February, the sponsors had decided it was too dangerous to open "The Disappeared."

It may be 25 years or longer since the height of the violence of political kidnappings, imprisonment, torture and murder that are the focus of "The Disappeared," but the people of South America haven't forgotten. Nor have the people considered responsible for the atrocities.

But in Guatemala, the younger staff of the exhibit sponsors convinced the organization's leaders that it was essential to open the exhibit as planned. The younger staff members went out and raised $100,000 to bring about the exhibit opening in Antigua, Reuter said.

Reuter and four members of the NDMOA staff flew to Antigua to help with the installation, which was in a historic building in which they couldn't pound a single nail into the wall. When it was time for the opening, Reuter asked how many people were expected.

"They had no clue, but they thought maybe 100," she said. "There were at least 900 people that came, and they were families of the disappeared, they were human rights workers, they were intellectuals, they were artists. The crowd just kept rolling in."

Two days after the opening, two of the babies of "The Disappeared," kidnapped at birth and often raised by the same people responsible for killing their parents, were found in Argentina. That made headlines in Spain and throughout Europe and South America, Reuter said. The emerging use of DNA to identify missing people is helping the people who are searching for children of those who disappeared, Reuter said.

In Chile, the exhibit opened a year later than was planned. When Reuter began research to open the show in Argentina, she was told over and over to "leave it alone." Eventually the government there agreed that the past had to be faced, she said.


The return of "The Disappeared" to the North Dakota Museum of Art seemed a good time to show how countries and people experience and survive political turmoil and war, she said. That's how the idea for the Human Right Symposium came about.

In addition to Beah and Reuter, presenters at the symposium will be:

- The Rev. Jack Davis will speak Sunday and Monday. A pastor among Peru's poor since 1974, Davis was hunted by the Shining Path during the years of Peru's civil war. Born in 1942 in Devils Lake and ordained a priest in 1969, he made service to the poor of Peru his life's mission.

- Sarah Cahill, pianist, will perform "A Sweeter Music" at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the Empire Arts Center. The title is from Martin Luther King Jr.'s Nobel Prize lecture: "We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody, that is far superior to the discords of war." Cahill, a pianist and composer, was commissioned by artists to create music dealing with peace and will perform to the backdrop of three projects dealing with war done by video artist John Sanborn.

- Emmanuel Jal is former boy soldier from Sudan who has become an international hip-hop artist and composer, human rights spokesman and author of "War Child," a documentary of his life. Jal performed for Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday celebration and his music can be heard in the film "Blood Diamond." Jal will introduce his film at the showing at noon Wednesday in the UND Memorial Union Lecture Bowl and will perform and lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Empire Arts Center.

- Cristian Correa will speak at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the North Dakota Museum of Art. He is a senior associate for the International Center for Transitional Justice and is a consultant for reparations policies in Peru, Colombia and elsewhere. Previously, he was legal adviser to the Commission for Human Rights Policies of the Presidency of the Republic of Chile, created to investigate and provide remedies for the errors made on the identification of remains of the disappeared.

Most of the symposium is free, but tickets for the three night performances (Ishmael Beah on Monday, Sarah Cahill on Tuesday and Emmanuel Jal on Wednesday) are on sale at the museum. Call (701) 777-4195 for tickets.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .


Ishmael Beah
Ishmael Beah, who was a child soldier in Sierra Leone and author of "A Long Way Gone," will be in Grand Forks on Monday as part of the human rights symposium sponsored by North Dakota Museum of Art.

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