DRC: Forgotten War - USA photographic exhibit
New York - Five world-renowned photographers from the VII Photo Agency - Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil, Joachim Ladefoged, and James Nachtwey - traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from May through August of 2005 with the international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in order to shed light on the suffering of the Congolese people as they struggle to survive a war that remains virtually invisible to the outside world.
Their work is presented in Democratic Republic of the Congo: Forgotten War an exhibition curated by Alison Morley and a new book published by de.MO. The exhibition, which will tour in the United States, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe in the coming year, opens at New York City's Engine 27 on September 21.
Over a decade of war and the collapse of the public health system have resulted in widespread and acute misery for people throughout the DRC. Many Congolese face extreme deprivation and violence, with brutal militia attacks and sexual violence common.
Severe malnutrition and epidemics of diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and cholera take an even greater toll as few people have access to health facilities let alone treatment. The complex and diverse nature of the violence and neglect challenges any notion of simple, blanket solutions to address even the immediate causes of so much death and suffering.
"Today the world only seems to be able to focus on one or two events at a time. Over the past years, the DRC has never been one of them," said VII photographer Ron Haviv. "By becoming aware of the staggering human toll in the DRC, it was obvious for us at VII to try to help change that. We hope that through this work we can raise the awareness of what is happening and that all who see the work will want to help change an ever worsening situation."
During the past year, the northeastern region of Ituri has been the epicenter of violence, with multiple factions fighting for the control of the area's resources. Photographers Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, and James Nachtwey all documented the Bon Marché Hospital in Bunia city in Ituri, where MSF teams offer medical care for victims of violence in the region.
Sexual violence is especially prevalent in Ituri. MSF treated more than 3,500 rape survivors between June 2003 and May 2005. A flare-up in fighting this past spring throughout Ituri prompted emergency medical interventions in four displacement camps in Tchomia, Kakwa, Tche, and Gina. VII photographer Haviv also traveled with MSF teams to two of these camps to photograph the intolerable situation for the more than 80,000 civilians who have sought safety in them.
Insecurity is also widespread in North Kivu, where photographer James Nachtwey accompanied MSF teams providing basic medical care, specialized care for malnourished children, and treatment for victims of sexual violence.
HIV/AIDS is also a key health emergency in DRC. VII's Antonin Kratochvil photographed in the town of Bukavu, South Kivu, where MSF is providing over 300 people living with HIV/AIDS with free antiretroviral (ARV) medicines. In a second HIV/AIDS project, in the capital Kinshasa, where VII photographer Joachim Ladefoged traveled, more than 1000 people living with HIV/AIDS receive free ARV treatment from MSF and MSF carries out community health work with commercial sex workers in the city.
"The grim reality of life in many areas of the DRC has become commonplace, a kind of normalization of the unacceptable," said Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of MSF in the United States. "There is so much need that it is a struggle to do anything other than respond to the most serious emergencies. What strikes me most about the plight of the Congolese people is how their unbearable situation is virtually invisible to the world beyond their village. These photographs go behind the headlines and offer glimpses of the strength and suffering of ordinary people - reminding us, and the world at large, that we must refuse to let the unacceptable become normal."
Advance copies of Democratic Republic of the Congo: Forgotten War, published by de.MO, will be available for the first time at the exhibit.
Exhibit curated by Alison Morley. Lighting concepts by Jack Weisberg and Engine 27.
VII derives its name from the number of founding photo-journalists who, in September 2001, formed this collectively owned agency. Designed from the outset to be an efficient, technologically enabled distribution hub for some of the world's finest photojournalism, VII has been responsible for creating and relaying to the world many of the images that define the turbulent opening years of the 21st century.
Alexandra Boulat, Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil, Christopher Morris, James Nachtwey and John Stanmeyer were joined in 2002 by Lauren Greenfield and in 2004 by Joachim Ladefoged. Together they document conflict - environmental, social and political, both violent and non-violent - to produce an unflinching record of the injustices created and experienced by people caught up in the events they describe.
MSF (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in more than 70 countries. Today, MSF has more than 160 international volunteers and over 1800 national staff working in 30 projects in 6 provinces of the DRC in one of the organization's largest assistance program in the world today.