Using art to raise awareness

An example of Lauren Sleat’s paintings which were combined with a poem by Van G. Garrett. The exhibit was motivated by Sleat’s time spent in Rwanda.

COLLAB. for AWARENESS exhibit brings light to the issues of Rwandan genocide

For more than a century the world has been haunted with harsh reoccurring events of genocide. After viewing memorials of these horrible atrocities that occurred in Rwanda in 1994, art professor Lauren Sleat has taken it upon herself to raise awareness through artwork. The awarewness is  not only for the genocide that took place in Rwanda, but also for genocide and crimes against humanity all over the world.

Artwork, tangible items- a wooden coffin and children’s dresses, photographs of children in Rwanda, and poetry by Sleat and poet Van G. Garrett filled the room of the Wooten Garner House at Sleat’s COLLAB. for AWARENESS exhibit, which ran from Feb. 21 through Feb. 25.

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Art professor Lauren Sleat’s exhibit COLLAB. for AWARENESS combined her artwork and poetry with the artwork and poetry of Van G. Garrett. This installment features a wooden coffin surrounded by pictures of people from the community affected by the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The poetry included in the exhibit created a more literal understanding of what happened during the genocide.

During her time teaching in Rwanda at the Green Hills Academy, Sleat visited the Ntarama Genocide Memorial where thousands of women, men and children were killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She expressed that people warned her not to visit the memorials because they were depressing, but she decided to go anyways so that she could better understand the genocide that took place there.


“It took me about a month to get out and get up the courage to go—it was hard,” Sleat said. “Somebody asked me last night if when I walked in that church if I just started to cry, and I said ‘it’s such an overwhelming kind of solemn sense, you don’t even feel that you want to burst into tears, you can’t believe it, you can’t believe what your seeing.’ I can’t explain it.”

Garrett and Sleat have collaborated together now for six years contributing to each others work, Sleat creating images to Garretts poems and Garrett writing to her images. Talks of the exhibit started in September when Sleat asked Garrett to contribute poetry to incorporate with each piece of her artwork. He said that this was one of the most challenging exhibits he has ever worked on.

“It’s not one of those friendly types of exhibits (like) when you walk in you see a lot of bright colors and it’s real playful…,” Garrett said. “It’s live and direct. This is what it is: the death of human beings.”

During the process of planning the exhibit, Sleat decided to incorporate artwork from other artists for a larger collaboration. Having a certain style of art in mind for her exhibit, she handpicked artwork from 15 artists all over the country. Among the artists chosen are three Georgia College students from her Fine and Applied Arts and Civilization class from last semester.

Junior pre-nursing major Tyler Rawlings, was among the 15 artists asked to contribute. His linoleum print depicts people holding machetes up to a family. He said that through this piece of art he wanted to depict the impact genocide had on the people of Rwanda.

“It was very difficult for me,” Rawlings said. “It’s one thing to look at the artwork,;it’s another to create it. In the past I have really steered away from subjects like this because I didn’t really have any desire for it. I knew it was happening, that was enough for me. But going through Lauren Sleat’s class, I really was able to embrace that and just kind of overcame it.”

In April, the exhibit will travel to the University of Southern California. Sleat hopes to showcase the exhibit again in Georgia at various colleges.

“The only thing I can say is that it was a labor of love,” Sleat said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Other than the support and the help of Van, it was a really difficult exhibit to put together, Just to try to figure out how to do everything, I learned a lot from the experience. As hard as it was-and there were days that I was like ‘I’m not doing this-’ I think it’s really important information for people to have.”

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