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West Valley exhibit spotlights Sudan and its people

Published: Sunday, March 23 2008 12:25 a.m. MDT

Victoria Butler, wife of the last U.S. ambassador to Sudan, holds a copy of her book, "Sudan: The Land and the People." Photos from the book are being displayed at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

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There is a beautiful earthiness in Michael Freeman's photographs of Sudan, where images of a dusty land are juxtaposed against the brilliant brown faces of both Arabs and Africans.

Although often depicted as a nation in war, Freeman's photographs give a complete picture of Sudan, with images of its economy, landscape, religions and turmoil, said Victoria Butler, a freelance journalist and co-author of the book "Sudan: The Land and the People," in which Freeman's photographs have been published.

Over the next five weeks, 70 of his photographs will be on display at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. The public is invited to view the exhibit for free and also tour a second gallery of work from the African Refugee Artists Club, a group that assists young refugee artists.

Butler was in town last week for the opening of Freeman's exhibit and said she is hopeful the public will see the true beauty of Sudan in his photos. From 1995 until 1997, Butler lived in Sudan with her husband, Timothy Carney, the last U.S. ambassador to Sudan. She taught English at Ahfad University in Sudan and was the person who pushed for access to the country to capture images and stories for her book.

"The pictures are alive," Butler said of Freeman's work. "He made a real connection with the people. You feel like you can know these people in the pictures."

One image shows a long line of men, members of the Sammaniyya Sufi Sect, clad in white and jumping. A man sits in a white plastic chair at the front of the group, clapping. The ground is covered by bright prayer rugs.

Every Friday after prayers, members of this sect will jump and chant the 99 names of Allah, or God. The photograph is unique because most Arabs do not jump during religious exercises, Butler said. The practice comes from the southern part of Sudan, which has had conflict with the northern, Arab part of the country.

Another photograph is of two village headmen in Darfur, which has been the center of recent military conflict and what the United States and others have described as genocide. The men wear all white and their faces appear tinged by weariness and sorrow but also determination.

"Human relationships are always complicated, whether it's family or clan," Butler said of the conflict. "Americans can understand it's not a simple place and there are not simple solutions to the problems.

In capturing the photographs for her book, Butler said Sudanese from warring clans and cultures were able to accept the need for photographs from all parts of the country, regardless of personal conflict. It was a matter of building trust and working with transparency, she said, adding that the Sudanese were pleased to have their culture portrayed with respect and without a strong focus on the violence in the country.

"We don't pretend that it (the violence) didn't happen," Butler said. "It happened, and this did, too. There's been more here (in Sudan) than that."

If you go ...

What: Sudan: The Land and the People Exhibit

Where: Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South

When: Through April 30

Museum hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and by appointment

How much: No charge

Phone: 801-965-5100

Web: www.utahdiplomacy.org


E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com

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