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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

AMULETS AND DREAMS (article first published : 2002-08-2)

Amulets and Dreams, a brilliant new book edited by the well known South African photographer Omar Badsha, was launched by Amara Essy, Secretary General of the OAU, at the inaugural conference of the African Union in Durban in July.

The six essays of brilliant and memorable photographs moves from the devastation wrought by war in Angola and Sierra Leone, to the South African-driven process of reconciliation and renewal in Burundi. The bulk of the photographs in the book were taken by award-winning photographer Guy Tillim, and cover developments in Sierra Leone, Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Burundi.

The photographs are accompanied by a penetrating essay on the social status of youth in Africa, by Dr Julia Maxted of the University of Pretoria. The book not only dispels the myth that there is no progress in the continent but, by an extraordinary sense of timing, brings us face to face with democratic transitions to peace in Angola, Sierra Leone and Burundi.

The title comes from the poem amulets and dreams and refers to amulets and charms worn by child solders, who tragically number in the thousands, to ward off bullets in combat that many are press-ganged into. The book is an invaluable contribution to the debate on children's rights and change in Africa.

Prof. Abebe Zegeye (Unisa) in a review of the book writes "This book should be seen as an attempt to come to grips with a specific issue that is causing concern in Africa: that of child soldiers who are victims of nihilistic war. It is claimed that the impact of globalisation and the tension between continuity and change are particularly acute for children in Africa.

Increasingly, the potency and potential of young people are being exploited to sustain the power of those in authority as well as those seeking to replace them. Thus, young people are unable to realise the promises of the new global economy.

The highly original text in this book analyses the unacceptable involvement of Africa's children in war. The photographs strikingly illustrate African societies in which all aspects of "normality" in daily life are violated.

Together, while exposing the dangers facing these children, the text and photographs appear to ask what will take the place of "abnormality" in these societies. Besides suggesting the rudiments of a possible solution, they make a powerful and provocative statement on the African condition today."

Amara Essy, Secretary General of the OAU in his introduction writes "For too many African children, peace lives in distant memory. Armed conflicts on this continent have wreaked destruction on their civilian populations, through violence, families torn apart, destroyed infrastructure and shattered economies.

Many of these wars have erased the lines between civilians and militaries; in the process running roughshod over the values and norms that would protect children and youth. For young people socialized in warfare, the incentives to build a peaceful society are no longer there by example.

This remarkable collection of photographs is moving and hopeful. It shows the spirit of resilience and the potential of youth in the face of many hardships, rather than the pathos that seems to permeate so many portrayals of Africa's children.

In the spirit of the new global commitment to children's rights following the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children, we hope that this work will further inspire Africa's commitment to the future of her young generation."

The exhibition is at Print / paper gallery of the Durban Art Gallery. More details from 031 311-2264 or fax 031 311-2273.




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