A Great Wave of Transformation: One Student’s Journey in South Sudan

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March 26, 2011

[Reprinted in part from Art Center’s blog The Dotted Line]

Teed [“in waiting”]: Portraits of South Sudanhighlights portraits and images captured while Graphic Design student Tyler Paulson served local missionaries in the region during parts of 2008 and 2010. Paulson’s journey captures a sensitive, yet exciting transition for a generation of people that have only known war. His images praise a world of peace which has quickly opened exciting opportunities for healing and growth.

“Taken after a ceasefire, these portraits capture a people experiencing their first taste of peace in decades while awaiting the hope of becoming a new nation,” Paulson says. “I met a people of great beauty, but with deep scars—and I sought out to know and serve them, and to share their story.”

After achieving their independence from Great Britain in 1956, the people of South Sudan spent thirty-nine of the following fifty years in a war with the Sudanese government. In 2005, the two sides reached a peace agreement, ending the war and giving South Sudan the opportunity to vote for independence in 2011.

Paulson describes his life-changing experience as witness to “a great wave of transformation” taking place within the mid-western regions of South Sudan. During his visit, he worked with missionaries who operated a medical clinic and a training school for pastors, of which he “met a people in the midst of transition and anticipation.”

“So many things broke my heart, but I also saw so much beauty during my time in Africa. Together they forever changed the way I saw the world. The slower pace of life instilled in me a much greater appreciation for the simple joy of sharing life within a community of people,” reflects Paulson. “I’ve experienced why justice and compassion are worth fighting for, and have discovered that art is a powerful weapon.”

Themes of seeing, knowing, redemption and beauty are emulated through his vivid imagery. His frames carefully and considerately place his subjects in context of what is quickly changing, while keeping in mind the remaining evidence of war that serves as one of many everyday reminders. Paulson’s exhibition captures intimate moments of tradition, such as an initiation into adulthood, where cuts are made on the skin and then filled, causing an infection that when healed, creates scares that protrude from the skin in a dramatic, tattoo-like fashion. Other images include glimpses of optimistic daily endeavors.

His photographs tell many stories.  One of the most touching is about a student named Donato, who was attacked while riding his bike home from town in late 2009.  He suffered a serious blow to the head and had to be evacuated to Kenya to receive more intensive treatment.  He spent his Christmas that year in Nairobi as part of Paulson’s friends’ family, receiving life-saving treatment, experiencing the big city, and learning about a life lived by faith.  “Donato represents the future of South Sudan.  He’s a hard-working student, mentored by those he helps around the ministry compound.  With strength and conviction, he keeps a smile on his face despite the adversity he has endured,” Paulson shares.

Teed [“in waiting”]: Portraits of South Sudan is the culmination of a Designmatters-facilitated independent study led by Graphic Design faculty member Gloria Kondrup.

An artist reception will be held on Saturday, March 26th from 6pm to 9pm, and the exhibition will be on display until April 1st.

For more information about Tyler Paulson’s powerful journey and work, visit teedsudan.com