Making bones a hands-on approach to grasping genocide

Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette

Doherty High School junior Alyssa Tillery loads a kiln with clay “bones” as part of the national “One Million Bones” project.

The (Colorado Springs) Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS (AP) – In a little more than a week, Doherty High School students transformed pounds of lumpy clay into physical reminders of genocide.

Eventually, the more than 2,000 bones made by students will be part of a massive nationwide project called One Million Bones intended to increase global awareness of the victims and survivors of genocide.

“People need to wake up,” said 16-year-old Hailey Buer, a Doherty junior. “It makes your heart break.”

She said the project has been interesting because the bones represent real people.

One Million Bones grew out of a 50,000-bone art installation in Albuquerque. The larger project is aimed at sharing the experience with people across the country.

Colorado students will contribute about 7,000 pieces. Bones will be displayed temporarily in state capitols before they are taken to Washington, D.C., for the main installation in the National Mall next summer.

“It’s a good project to help people see what’s going on,” said 17-year-old Ethan Silva, a Doherty senior.

Students learned the history of genocide, as well as what is happening around the world in countries including Sudan, Somalia, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Doherty’s nearly 2,000 students attended an assembly and watched videos of young people who have been victimized by genocide talking about their experiences.

Making bones is a small part of a very big idea, said 15-year-old Anna Pope, Doherty sophomore.

Art teachers Sarah Stevens and Cassidy Jones led the Doherty project after many art teachers around the state were asked to participate. Students started making the bones in October and wrapped up production in November.

They brought friends to participate and taught others how to make the bones. In all, more than 800 students pitched in. Some were enrolled in art classes, but most came from other classes and brought friends, Stevens said.

“It made it real to them,” said Doherty Assistant Principal Kim Southard. “In this hectic world we can get a little complacent.”

The bones project offered opportunities for interdisciplinary work, Southard said. For example, students in an English class worked on bones, then used the experience for writing assignments.

Stevens said the project shows students how art can be political or social, and used as a tool to promote change.

“It’s political, but not partisan,” Southard said.

Doherty students plan a somber ceremony in mid-November to set up all the bones made at the school before the bones are sent east for the larger display.

“When they lay it out, it symbolizes a mass grave,” Stevens said.

The project made a lasting impression on those involved, including adults. Students said they want to do more, and said it was inspirational to work on a project that could encourage people to take action to stop genocide around the world.

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