DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, June 10, 2013

One Million Bones: Too Many Lives Lost

photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/ AP

photo by Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

When you come from a place like my rural South Jersey area, you really don't expect to grow up with a world-changer. But if you attended the crop-field-surrounded Cumberland Regional High School in the late 1990's that assumption would be wrong.  For the CRHS Class of 1999 produced Naomi Natale, co-founder of The Art of Revolution and founder and director of One Million Bones, the 2 groups which sponsored a 3-day campaign on the National Mall in DC this past weekend to serve as a call to end genocide and mass atrocities worldwide.

Under Natale's direction for a powerful collision of art and activism, volunteers from around the country created a poignant "mass grave" on the Mall that displayed more than 1 million handmade human bones constructed from clay, plaster, and other materials.

In an advocacy video for the project, Desmond Tutu, a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican   bishop who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980's as an opponent of apartheid, pointed  out the significance of the bones. "The symbol of bone attests to the impermanence of life," Tutu said. "But I believe they embody so much more. Bones are evidence of a unique individual journey -- each moment of hope and happiness, each dream and passion, each struggle experienced in a lifetime. But also the evidence of a collective journey, the stories shared and the human experience."

Tutu also explained that the grave serves as a reminder of those whose stories have been lost in places such as Sudan, Germany and the former Yugoslavia and reminds people of the collective responsibility to be one another's keeper. “Each individual’s humanity is inextricably linked to one another’s. We must raise each other up or else we all sink down,” he said.

The Mall installation was the culmination of a project begun in 2010. Since then, Natale and her groups have been trying to raise awareness of genocide and mass killing in Sudan, Congo, Burma and Somalia by taking the provoking, grisly display from city to city. In each city, local artists, students and activists were recruited to add to the growing stock of handmade bones.

Throughout the weekend, the event included speakers, performances and a candlelight vigil from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, followed by an hour of quiet reflection. Today, volunteers took some of the bones to the Capitol to urge Senators and Congressmen to join the struggle against genocide.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Naomi Natale (photo by Teru Kuwayma)
Even though she went to the same high school as my son Michael, I had never heard of Naomi Natale until my friend, fellow English teacher, and ex-Night School bandmate Bob Evans contacted me and said his former English student was now an activist artist who was bringing the installation One Million Bones to DC. "She really is an incredibly special person," Evans said. Yesterday, we caught up with Naomi at the installation site. I used my connections with Evans to get her called by walkie-talkie from whatever job she was doing. "Oh, Mr. Evans. He was just a great teacher ... my favorite. I hope he's not mad at me. He came to (the exhibition in) New Orleans but I haven't talked to him recently. I'm really bad at keeping in contact with people," she said. I assured her that Mr. Evans, as she called him, was still singing her praises. I also promised to relay the details of our brief talk to him. To read a comprehensive article about Natale and her projects, click here.

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