In his exhibit "Testimony: Visions of Hope and Despair from East Africa," photographer Daniel Cheng Yang (a St. Paul native who took most of the pictures when he was just a teenager), attempts to personalize a region of the world which is too often seen as monolithic. He is most successful in his individual portraits: a Turkana girl looking displeased into the camera against a background of acacia trees, a young boy with tears in his eyes and on his cheeks. A picture might be worth a thousand tugs on heartstrings, but it doesn't replace the words necessary to understand the root causes and subtle complexities of the turmoil that is portrayed. For that, viewers must turn to either the interview with Yang that loops on the exhibit's laptop (where we learn that the crying boy had recently witnessed his mother's rape and murder) or the text of his book, copies of which are available for purchase. The Turkana, one of the ethnic groups featured in the exhibit and in the book, are suffering the effects of having one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the world sprawling through the area that the Turkana consider their homeland. Thus the disgruntled look on the Turkana girl's face. The camp residents, who at over 70,000 outnumber the Turkana, arrived seeking sanctuary primarily from Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia. The refugees must deal with not only the limited resources and services in the camp, but tension with the local Turkana community, which sometimes leads to violent skirmishes. Yang's hope is that by capturing these moments he will spur viewers to feel a connection to his subjects and become instruments of change. It is up to the viewer to decide how that change will come about.
Sept. 13-Oct. 5, 2007