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Provocative pieces have place at Faculty Exhibition 2000

Khalid Kodi's mixed-media work about Sudan is but one example of art as political statement

By Mary Jo Curtis

The bleak faces tell a story - one of hunger, despair and death. They are the faces of the starving children of Sudan.

Their haunting images flash across a sculpted wall embedded with disembodied hands and tiny vials of tears, and Sudan is suddenly no longer half a world away. This African nation and the most vulnerable of its people are part of the here and now - and that is precisely what artist Khalid Kodi intended.

Kodi's work is part of the multimedia Faculty Exhibition 2000 running through May 30 at the David Winton Bell Gallery in the List Art Center. The show includes the art of all 14 regular faculty members and visiting instructors in the Visual Art and Modern Culture and Media departments.

Not every exhibit at the Bell Gallery is as somber as Kodi's, yet each is provocative in its own way. Leslie Bostrom's mixed media drawings of a headless female torso hint at issues of politics and gender; Paul Badger's electronic "Courtesy Box Prototype" detects visitors with a motion sensor, then thanks them "for accepting machine intelligence." Tony Cokes examines the influence of media images in video entitled "AD Vice," while Marlene Malik uses the same medium to document the relationship between aging mothers and daughters.

"It's a very diverse show. It always is," said gallery director Jo-Ann Conklin. Pointing to works of Kodi and Malik in particular, she noted, "There are some real political issues, and then we have someone else dealing with the day-to-day issues we all have to deal with."

Kodi's art is often political; it is his beacon to alert the world community to the ongoing tragedy in his homeland. Sudan has been ravaged by civil wars since gaining its independence from Britain in 1956, and more than 2 million people have died since 1983. Another 5 million are displaced, he said; whole generations have grown up in refugee camps. An "alarming shortage of food" in the southern portion of the country will result in more deaths before the year is out, yet the Sudanese government has not allowed relief organizations into the remote area, Kodi charged.

Although his work is being well received at Brown, that wasn't the case at Vassar College, where Kodi recently exhibited a similar work. There, according to Kodi, "people were angry" about a recent exhibit with a similar theme. Some thought his choice was inappropriate for the setting, while others "favor the [Sudanese] regime or were trying not to face the situation," he said.

"It's like the Nazis in the '30s and '40s. People knew what was going on, but didn't speak out," he said. "By being quiet, they're contributing to genocide - and I have no trouble calling it genocide."

In the plaque mounted beside his exhibit at Bell Gallery, the artist's message to viewers is direct: "By not looking, we abandon the child, the man, the woman and, indeed, the nation."

Despite the recent controversy, Kodi would like to see more politics in art.

"The world is moving into different times, and art makes people aware," he said. "It is good that Brown has a great interest in art."

"The faculty exhibition is an integral part of the gallery program, and it's always very popular," said Conklin. The exhibition runs about every three years - "often enough that each group of students gets to see the work of the faculty, and leaving enough time in between for new works.

"Everybody's work looks strong (this year), and it's nice to be able to say that," she added.

Also participating in the 2000 exhibition are Wendy Edwards, Richard Fishman, Walter Feldman, Roger Mayer, Jerry Mischak, Francois Poisson, David Reville, Janos Stone and Leslie Thornton.