By ELIZABETH GOLDEN
Jana's Campaign, in partnership with Fort Hays State University's Leadership 310 class and Africa-based Victims2Survivors, organized the In the Name of Love art exhibition on display at Hays Arts Council.
Hem Matsi, co-founder of Victims2Survivors and a fashion-designer by trade, traveled from Namibia, Africa, to attend the opening night reception Saturday.
"I represent Namibia at the United Nations Regional Artists Council," Matsi said. "A purpose of the council is to think of creative ways to raise awareness about gender-related violence.
After taking part in the Africa Unite Campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls in 2012, she founded Victims2Survivors.
"Our main focus is advocacy and raising awareness," Matsi said. "We're trying to get the media and youth involved, and getting men engaged in saying no to gender-based violence."
Matsi's passion in gender-related violence stems from a Namibian term called "baby dumping."
"It's because so many of the young girls get sexually abused," Matsi said. "They get pregnant, and because no one talks to them about gender-based violence, they hide (the pregnancy). So by the time they give birth, they just dump these babies anywhere. By the time they are discovered, most of the time, they're dead."
Matsi hopes to raise enough funds through Victims2Survivors to open an adoption agency.
"I wanted to open up a window of hope," she said. "So if you don't want the baby, you can take it there and someone else will adopt it."
In 2013, former Jana's Campaign Executive Director Eric Sader was in Uganda at a conference.
"I think that's what got him thinking about what organizations there are in Africa," said Christie Brungardt, Jana's Campaign founder. "Then he found Victims2Survivors."
Sader reached out to Matsi via Facebook.
"We had an exhibition in Namibia that was launched by the first lady of the Republic of Namibia," Matsi said. "So we put the story and pictures on Facebook. Jana's Campaign saw that and thought we should collaborate."
Brenda Meder, director of the HAC, was approached by Sader in August, asking if they could host an exhibition.
"At that time, I did not have something lined up for February," Meder said. "It just clicked. Instead of rushing it, how much of a statement could we make doing this in February, a month that is dedicated to love. ... For how many people is (gender-related violence) the face of love?"
Artists from Hays, as well as Africa and China, have their work displayed at the HAC throughout the month.
Diala Al-Daghlise, a master of fine arts student at FHSU, is from Jordan.
"I have always been interested in art," she said. "Whenever I have any kind of feeling, whether I'm happy or sad, I just can't do anything else (to express the feelings)."
Al-Daglise is finishing her studies before returning to Jordan.
"We have some rules in Jordan, and I want to change them," she said. "In the beginning, I was talking to men. But then I realized the problem is with women, how a women treats herself and how women treat each other."
Approximately 50 people showed up for opening night.
"It's beautiful, and I love the way it's done," Matsi said. "It's just beautiful because it's a very powerful medium, to be able to raise awareness about gender-based violence through art that I'm so passionate about. It's really beautiful."
The exhibition will continue until March 8 and is free to attend. Donations to Jana's Campaign or Victims2Survivors are encouraged.