"Helen Suzman: Fighter for Human Rights" Exhibit at SMU Meadows School of the Arts, January 20 - February 20, 2015

Public invited to opening reception Jan. 21, 4-6 p.m.

A traveling graphic panel exhibition showcasing the formidable career of South African anti-apartheid and human rights activist Helen Suzman (1917-2009) will be on display at SMU Meadows School of the Arts from January 20 to February 20, 2015 in the Bob Hope Lobby of the Owen Arts Center.

Helen Suzman: Fighter for Human Rights” tells the story of Suzman’s rise as the leading Member of Parliament to oppose apartheid legislation during 36 years of public service. Meticulously selected photographs, personal letters, speeches, political cartoons and news articles convey the tremendous strength she demonstrated while facing constant animosity, anti-Semitism and intimidation from other South African Parliamentarians, colleagues and citizens.

Suzman served in the South African Parliament for 36 years (1953-89), including a 13-year period (1961-73) as the governing body’s only member of the Progressive Party and among the few Parliamentarians to condemn apartheid. The exhibition also examines Suzman’s enduring friendship with Nelson Mandela, which began in 1967 when the two met during his incarceration at the Robben Island Prison, located just west of Cape Town. Suzman became a vocal advocate for Mandela’s release from prison, stating that Mandela “...was the one man who would have the will and authority to persuade the African National Congress (ANC) and the government to suspend violence, and who could create the climate for negotiations.” Tenacious in her beliefs, Suzman was recognized as a human rights champion, earning her two Nobel Peace Prize nominations, multiple honorary doctorate degrees and worldwide accolades.

“The entire exhibition really tells the story of one fearless individual’s steadfast commitment to fighting for what she believed in the face of institutionalized opposition,” says Clyde Valentín, director of SMU Meadows’ Arts + Urbanism Initiative. “In many ways, her life work affirms that, even when things seem their most bleak, the tides of enlightenment and justice eventually prevail. It is good for our students to see themselves in Helen Suzman’s story.”

When asked if her Jewish values were the source of her staunch stand against apartheid, Suzman responded that rather than look only at values, she was more inspired by the shared experiences of enslavement and prejudice, perpetrated on both Jews and blacks. She said that since she had lived and seen what can be achieved when not enslaved, she was fueled to do what she could to end legislated and legitimized prejudice.

Partners for the SMU exhibition include SMU Meadows’ Arts + Urbanism Initiative, the SMU Embrey Human Rights Program and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. The “Helen Suzman: Fighter for Human Rights” North Texas collegiate campus tour is presented by The M.B. & Edna Zale Foundation.

The exhibition has visited two other North Texas college campuses, Austin College in Sherman in September 2014 and Paul Quinn College in Dallas in October. After the month-long showing at SMU’s Meadows School, it will travel to the University of Texas at Dallas School of Arts & Humanities on February 23.

An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, January 21, 4-6 p.m. in the Bob Hope Lobby. The public is invited and no reservations are needed. Refreshments will be served.

The exhibition is free and open to the public. The Owen Arts Center opens at 7 a.m. weekdays, at 8 a.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. on Sundays, and closes at midnight each night. The Owen Arts Center is located at 6101 Bishop Boulevard on the SMU campus in Dallas (75205).

The exhibition was organized at the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town under the direction of Dr. Milton Shain. The curator was Millie Pimstone and graphic designer was Linda Bester. The exhibition’s U.S. tour is sponsored by the Dobkin Family Foundation of New York.

For more information about the life of Helen Suzman, see here and here.

For more information about the exhibition, contact Clyde Valentín, director of SMU Meadows Arts + Urbanism, at 214-768-1841 or email him at cvalentin@mail.smu.edu.