Davis lectures on the Canvas Peace Project

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Morgan Furgal

Cynthia Davis visited Assumption College on Monday, March 31 to discuss her Canvas Peace Project in hopes of educating students on her story and how we, too, can make changes in our lives no matter how big or small they may be. Davis was introduced by Dr. Dona Kercher, chairperson of the Women’s Studies Department, who sponsored the event.

It all started with a blue notecard. Before Davis began, she asked us to write down something that we loved and cared about. It could be absolutely anything, and she said we would revisit it later. Davis discussed with us an acronym that she came up with called “EIPA” which stands for experience, exposure, impact, inspire, interest, passion and action to illustrate how when something affects you, it can result in you making real changes and getting others to change.

Davis is a trained decorative artist who earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Vermont and was trained at the International Arts League in San Diego, Calif. Her journey began when her children were in high school. They became involved in the issues in Darfur after the United States named Darfur a genocide. Davis attended events with her children and also began to do service work with them in support of Darfur.

This experience exposed her to the conflicts and suffering in Sudan.

Davis mentioned in her lecture that it’s hard not only to explain but to understand what has happened in Sudan. Sudan was once the largest country in Africa. It relies on other countries for all of its resources except for oil, which is abundant there. Currently, there is a conflict between Northern and Southern Sudan which is due to the differences between Christians, Muslims and Arab extremists. Due to this conflict, millions of civilians have been killed and displaced due to attacks on their villages.

Davis spent time discussing who the “Lost Boys of Sudan” are. They are young boys between the ages of seven and 17 living in small villages. They are gone all day herding cattle. The attacks on their villages occurred during the day when they were not around. With their villages ravaged, they were forced to flee across the dessert to safety in Ethiopia.

The United States has brought 4,000 of these “lost boys” here and given them places to stay. Davis was so intrigued by what was happening that she read everything she could about Sudan and found out that one of the lost boys, Gabriel Bol Deng, was going to be speaking locally. Listening to him speak was a life changing experience for her. What inspired her most about Bol Deng was his value system, love for his family and his drive to do better. His goal was to build a school in his village in Sudan but he needed a brick building machine. Davis gave him the money that he needed for it that night. He began to email her pictures of all the bricks they were able to make by hand with the machine that she paid for.

She spent three years on the board for his organization HOPE for Ariang before she came up with an idea of her own. After doing her fellowship at United to End Genocide she realized she could use what she loved to help other people—art. Thus began “The Canvas Peace Project.” Davis wanted to focus on the women in the village because they are so often overlooked and have suffered so much. Artists would paint pictures of the women and sell the paintings to raise money for the women in Gabriel’s village. Davis didn’t know if this would be successful, but as word spread artists all over the country wanted to participate.

“Once people heard about it, they were really inspired and wanted to do it,” Davis said. “If you want real impact and change you have to share your passion.”

The Canvas Peace Project exhibits photos, stories and interviews in order to raise awareness about what happened in Sudan. Davis called genocide dehumanizing, and her goal is to re-humanize these women through art.

Davis’ daughter did a semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain and when Davis visited, she happened to mention the project to one of her daughter’s teachers, calling this a “window of opportunity.” The teacher later contacted her to tell her they were going to start their own exhibit in Barcelona.

Davis visited South Sudan with Bol Deng and called the trip life changing and humbling. The school was built using the brick maker she donated and seeing this, something so significant that she helped to create through her passion, was incredible. Her stories from her trip and the pictures that went along with them were beyond inspiring.

Now back to the blue notecard. She told us to read it to ourselves and think about how we could use this love of something to make a difference no matter how small.

“If you’re exposed to something and it moves you, even if it’s just reading a book, don’t just close the book, tell someone, take one little step,” she said. For more information on this project you can visit www.canvaspeaceproject.org.

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