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EXHIBITION
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, CA

EXHIBITION | Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

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SONOMA, CA – June 26, 2015 – Jane Baldwin’s travel and immersive work in the Omo River Valley photographing and recording stories from the women of indigenous communities living in Ethiopia and Kenya will be seen in an exhibition at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art from September 12-December 6, 2015. A series of public programs will bring environmental and human rights activists in to explore these urgent issues.

The exhibition features a selection of life size portraits and accompanying stories that span cultural traditions of first and second wife, death and mourning, arranged marriage, childbirth, education, a woman’s role as a Kara government representative. The multi-sensory exhibition also features Baldwin’s ten-minute short film of a Kara women musing about her concerns for the survival of her people, an audio tour that highlights the soundscape of field recordings along the banks of the Omo River, and a selection of artifacts gifted to the artist. 

“Working behind a medium format Hasselblad, Baldwin’s engagement with her subject is unbroken,” comments curator Anne Veh. “Artist and subject form a cross-cultural bridge of human understanding. Over time, Baldwin has created a documentation of indigenous culture that reflects the complex assimilation of the ancient and modern, woven into concerns for their future, all from a women’s perspective.”

Based in Duss, Baldwin’s camp was situated on the ancestral lands of the Kara tribe, providing an intimate relationship with the Kara, the smallest of the several self-sustaining indigenous tribes along the Omo River. Immediately drawn to the women of the Kara and neighboring tribes, the Nyangatom, Hamar, Turkana and Dassanach, Baldwin found herself quietly sitting with the women, watching, listening and adapting to the natural rhythms of river life on the Omo. Baldwin’s curiosity and willingness to bare witness to their stories engendered a trust that evolved slowly and developed into a lifetime multi-media project. Kara women are the keepers of the ancient oral traditions; through storytelling the legacy of a harmonious and interdependent way of life is preserved through myth, proverb and song. 

The Kara, a population of approximately 1,200, depend on the river’s annual flood cycle to replenish their land to farm sorghum and maize and to nourish their livestock. Their agro-pastoralist way of life is currently threatened by the construction of a giant hydroelectric dam on the Upper Omo River, the Gibe III (nearing completion) and land grabs by foreign investors and governments for the production of cotton and sugar cane. The Omo River, reverently referred to as their Mother and Father, has provided for the Kara’s wellbeing since the beginning of time. 

A poignant moment for Baldwin occurred when the women elders reversed the questioning during an interview and asked Jane, “Do you know what is happening with the Dam? And if you do would you tell us?” Baldwin states, “These stories give voice to the uncertain fate of all indigenous people in the developing world who are threatened by the global drive for dwindling natural resources.”

Opportunities to explore the international practice of land grabs, hydropower projects, and human rights violations are timely, as well as inspiring innovative ways and practices to preserve what is sacred and an ecologically sustainable way of life. Several public programs examining these issues are being planned, where policy experts from around the globe will convene at SVMA. Additionally, a lesson plan for high school and college students is available online at http://www.globalonenessproject.org/resources/lesson-plans/verge-displacement 

Baldwin reflects, “As a photographer, I believe art can inform and focus our attention in powerful and insightful ways. Through engagement and conversation, art can inspire empathy and evoke our humanity by raising awareness of political issues, and be a catalyst for change.” 

For more information on the environment, political and social issues facing the tribes in the Omo River Valley and the Lake Turkana watershed, please visit the following non-profits online at: International Rivers, Berkeley, California; Friends of Lake Turkana, Lodwar, Kenya; Human Rights Watch, New York, New York; Oakland Institute, Oakland, California; and Survival International, London, England. 

The exhibition provides opportunities to explore the international practice of land grabs, hydropower projects, and human rights violations are timely, as well as inspiring innovative ways and practices to preserve what is sacred and an ecologically sustainable way of life.  A lesson plan for high school and college students is available online at http://www.globalonenessproject.org/resources/lesson-plans/verge-displacement

About the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art:

Established in 1998, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is a membership supported 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that provides seasonal exhibitions of contemporary and modern art and educational and public programming for children, youth and adults. Its mission is to be, “a magnet of creative energy and cultural inspiration with exhibitions and educational programs that engage the community in the art and ideas of our time, encouraging curiosity and innovation.”

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is
located at 551 Broadway, one half block
up from Sonoma’s historic Plaza. Regular
Museum hours are 11am–5pm
Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is
$5 for adults. Children k–12 are admitted free, as are SVMA members. Additional information is available at www.svma.org or by calling (707) 939-7862.

PUBLIC PROGRAM
Kara Women Speak | Lesson Plan

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Jane Baldwin's recent body of work titled Kara Women Speak: Stories from Women, distills ten years of travel in the Omo River Valley photographing and recording stories from the women of indigenous communities living in southwestern Ethiopia. The Omo River Valley is home to roughly 12 indigenous cultures that have evolved over hundreds of years. All are intimately connected to the natural world. Oral tradition conveys the narratives of their ancestry and family histories, and women are the keepers of this oral tradition through their storytelling of myth, proverb, and song. 

Baldwin's work is an intimate portrayal of the women of the Omo River Valley who have lived for centuries unaffected by colonialism or modernity. Since a woman's point of view is rarely sought in these patriarchal societies, their stories often go untold. Yet, women are the nurturers and sustainers of their families and communities. They are valued for the number of children they bear and their hard work, but their thoughts and ideas are seldom heard. As a witness to the rich cultural lives of these women, Baldwin presents their stories to the outside world with integrity and respect. Her work reveals a sense of the women's strength and dignity, giving voice to their lives and stories, thoughts, and feelings. 

Communities along the Omo River, practice flood-recession agriculture and depend on the river's natural flood cycle to replenish their land for farming and grazing of livestock. Ethiopian government contracts have been awarded to foreign construction firms to build hydroelectric dams on the Omo River for energy exports. Gibe III, the largest dam of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, will drastically alter the river's flow and decrease essential flooding to this fragile ecosystem. Vast tracks of rich farmland have been leased to foreign investors to farm crops for export, forcing indigenous people to abandon their ancestral lands without consultation or compensation. They are possibly the last generation to live according to their culture. The livelihood of all agro-pastoralists living in the Omo River-Lake Turkana watershed is now endangered. 

"The human rights concerns and environmental threats to the Omo River Valley-Lake Turkana watershed is urgent," comments Baldwin. "It's my hope this photo essay will encourage interest in the issues facing the people of Lake Turkana and Ethiopia's Omo River Valley. The global drive for dwindling natural resources, and destruction of healthy ecosystems, of water, soil, and air will potentially affect us all." These issues reflect the uncertain fate of all people in the developing world. 

For more information on the environmental, political, and social issues facing the people of the Omo River Valley and Lake Turkana watershed, please visit International Rivers, Berkeley, California.

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