Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Art inspires discussion of Congo issues

Dubbed worst place for women

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The Graffiti Gallery on Higgins Avenue was surrounded by police Wednesday night -- not because a crime had been committed but because of high-profile visitors.

Former governor general Micha´lle Jean was there to see the exhibit, Peace Should Not Be This Fragile.

The show's opening is part of a week of events to raise funds and awareness for Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Congo, that treats women who've been the victims of extreme sexual violence.

The hospital's founder, Dr. Denis Mukwege, is visiting Winnipeg for the first time and travels with security since receiving death threats and surviving a 2012 assassination attempt.

In the exhibit, young artists -- including R.B. Russell and Churchill high school students -- explore their similarities and the resilience of people in the Republic of Congo, dubbed the worst place in the world to be a woman.

An estimated 5.4 million people have died in two decades of war in Congo. The mineral-rich area has been ravaged by many armed groups, some of them with backing from neighbouring countries.

Nearly two million women in Congo have been raped, the American Journal of Public Health reported. There's an overwhelming need for intervention, protection, rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

The foundation that supports Panzi Hospital has organized art shows and programs in the U.S., and now Canada, involving students to inspire a discussion of the issues facing Congolese people.

Twenty-year-old Winnipeg artist Nelson Mutima's watercolour piece in the exhibit explores why women are victimized and how so much blood has been shed to tap into Congo's abundant natural resources. It's something close to the third-generation refugee's heart.

"I was traumatized by the war. I couldn't talk, I had to communicate by drawing."

His mother, Henriette Mukesa, was a nurse at the general hospital in Bukavu, where Panzi Hospital for women opened in 1999.

"I know about the problems," said the single mom. The exhibit at Graffiti Gallery is on display until April 18.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2014 A6

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