One Million Bones protests genocide, one papier-mâché femur at a time
By Julia Mandeville
An early view of One Million Bones
Apathy is often cited as the reason that people fail to act against injustice, though perhaps impotence is a more useful way to describe such inaction. If we approach the problem from this perspective—that people don’t act because they don’t feel capable of affecting change—it has a very clear solution: Offer people a compelling, tangible way to make a difference and they will seize it.
This is the guiding principle behind One Million Bones, a large-scale, collaborative art installation conceived and directed by Naomi Natale, an Albuquerque artist, photographer and activist. In places like Sudan, Burma and Democratic Republic of the Congo, millions have been murdered or displaced by systematic killings and ethnic cleansing. The international community has neglected to effectively intervene, and the violence, which has ravaged for years already, continues. One Million Bones aims to unite people who individually—and as of yet, perhaps silently—oppose these genocides. It provides participants with the means to both demand government intervention and to raise support for the conflicts’ many victims. It gives these ongoing tragedies, often muted by our physical distance from them, an emotional presence and a powerful voice.
Over the next three years, Natale, her executive volunteer committee and anyone who wishes to join them will work to create the project’s eponymous one million bones out of papier-mâché and clay. In the spring of 2013, the bones will be shipped to Washington, D.C., and scattered across the National Mall to illustrate the vast losses incurred by genocide. If all goes according to plan, each bone will be sponsored for $5; the total proceeds ($5 million) will be dispersed between the Center for American Progress' Enough Project, the Genocide Intervention Network and Women for Women International—organizations that work to aid the displaced, increase awareness and ultimately eradicate these contemporary holocausts.
The programmatic objectives of One Million Bones stretch well beyond the 2013 exhibition and the charitable distribution of funds. Natale and Rick Rennie, an executive volunteer committee member, hatched the idea to inseminate a portion of the bones with perennial seeds. After the National Mall demonstration, they’ll be planted in gardens throughout the country. The plots will be arranged to spell out “NOW.” And every year, the perennials will bloom in this formation to reinforce and remind us of the importance of what Rennie calls “consistent enlightened action.”
Naomi Natale, OMB founder and director
Installation artist, photographer and activist; senior fellow, TED (a national nonprofit focused on promoting ideas in technology, entertainment and design); founder and director, The Cradle Project
“One of the main things I took from The Cradle Project was the power of creating a visual movement based on civic engagement and participation. At this moment I believe that the tangible is crucial, that people need to understand their role in a movement if they are to consider participating. Aside from visible component, I believe the power in these projects lies in their ability to educate while also giving a specific action one can take; this is crucial when we are looking to address an issue and create a movement around it. My hope is that through [the visibility of One Million Bones], participants will feel like empowered and active contributors in their global community.”
Rick Rennie, OMB executive volunteer committee member
Co-owner, Studio Hill Design; owner, Synapse; consulting asset manager, Historic District Improvement Co.; board member, Downtown Action Team
“I'm quite fascinated by and have made a lifelong pursuit of understanding how ideas become reality. As we grow from infant to child to adolescent to adult, we hopefully become aware of responsibility and consequence—and adjust or direct our actions accordingly. I see [One Million Bones] as a challenge for us to grow as adults into more aware persons, understanding our connection with the global community and embracing a way of living that allows individual expression, recognizes the reality of consequence and honors the responsibility of action.”
Tim Nisly, OMB executive volunteer committee member
“One Million Bones is a rare chance for us, for the average person, to save a life. To save a million lives. It's time to take a stand. It's time to say ‘no more’ to politicians who can sit by and watch innocent people die, while we have the power to intervene. It's time for America to step up and save the lives of millions. We have the time. We have the power. We can make a difference. There is no greater cause. This is a big project, and we're going to need to get a lot of people involved ... to support the project and give the millions of people living in the shadow of genocide a chance at a better life.”