Portraits of Hope and Survival: The Lost Boys of Sudan
About the Project
Artist Kelly Mudge introduces a project drawing attention to the extraordinary lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Mudge will photograph 20 young men in the towns where they live and use the photos to produce 20 painted portraits in her New York studio. The objective of this project is to exhibit the portraits and accompanying personal stories in a New York area gallery and in a full-color publication, thereby educating Americans about the Lost Boys' journey from Sudan to the US and the conflicts that have raged in Sudan for more than 100 years.
About the Lost Boys
Experts say the “Lost Boys” of Sudan—who survived a monumental ordeal of escaping their war-torn country to relocate to the US—are among the most war-traumatized children ever examined. The Lost Boys of Sudan comprise a total of 27,000 boys (now young men) who emigrated to the US in 2001. Displaced and orphaned during the country’s second civil war (1983-2005), these very young boys (ranging in age from about four to 13 years old) were separated from their families when government soldiers raided their villages, killing innocent civilians, kidnapping children for slaves, and burning everything in their path. Many young boys were able to escape into the bush out of sight of their would-be captors.
The large numbers of young boys who survived the destruction of their villages embarked on a very long journey to escape the violence in Sudan. Their trek took them hundreds of miles between refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya where they sought safety and schooling. The boys spent the next decade or more without their parents or families and without shoes, clothes, or reliable sources of food and water. Starving, diseased, and hunted by the government army, an overwhelming number of the Lost Boys perished on their journey.
The US resettled around 3,800 Sudanese boys in 2001 in different cities across America—the largest group of unaccompanied refugee children ever to be resettled in the US. Many of these young men had never seen electricity or used a flush toilet. Within just a few short months, they were expected to become fully-functioning citizens of a culture very foreign to them.
The displaced men now struggle here in the US to work and further their educations. Their desire for formal education is intense. In Sudan, school became very important to these orphaned boys. They had a saying: "education is my mother and my father". The young men have a driving need to acquire an education that will allow them to help rebuild their country. The Lost Boys of Sudan are the future of Sudan.
Despite their eagerness, life for the men is difficult. Some of them juggle several jobs and a full course load at school so they can send money back to Africa to support surviving family and friends. For many still, going to school is set aside in order to pay bills and buy basic necessities in a place where the cost of living is so high.
This project will educate Americans on current and past conflicts in Sudan and raise the public's awareness of the plight of the Sudanese people. The civil war in Southern Sudan—one of the bloodiest in history with an estimated two million people killed and four million more displaced—is not common knowledge for most Americans. As Mark Bixler points out in his book The Lost Boys of Sudan, before the Lost Boys started arriving in the US, “most Americans could not find Sudan on a map and had no idea of the depths of suffering there”. Only recently has the US turned its attention to Darfur (Western Sudan) even though genocide has been plaguing the citizens of Southern Sudan for decades. The Lost Boys’ remarkable stories can impart an understanding of what this war has done to the people of Southern Sudan, and help us understand what is happening right now in Darfur.
A visual story of the Lost Boys will make Sudan’s conflicts tangible to Americans. Using the medium of painting to capture and communicate a poignant narrative will allow the public another way to connect with the heroic story of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
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