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Welcome to Gulu Exhibition and Art Benefit
United Nations
Delegates Dining Room

May 12, 2009

Written by Wendy R. Williams

Photo Credits:
Patrick McMullen
and Zack Hyman of PMC

Opposite Photo:
Art created by one of the children


"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." – Edmund Burke

"We need to name and shame." - Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon

Ross Bleckner's art "has been largely an investigation of change, loss, and memory." Helen Harrison for the New York Times Bleckner was deeply moved by the plight of Africa's child slaves, the girls who have were raped, maimed and forced into prostitution and the young boys who were forced to become child soldiers with rites of passage that included killing, maiming or raping their own families. In January 2009, Bleckner (with both the financial and heart felt support of Egyptian industrialist Shafik Gabr of Artoc) traveled to northern Uganda with a mission in mind - to help North Africa's living human sacrifices through art therapy. Mr. Gabr had been asked to help with this project by his family friend, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the President of Egypt.

Here is a quote about Mr. Bleckner's trip to Uganda UN Press Release: "When approached to take part in the rehabilitation of these children, Bleckner replied “Actually, I’ll do more than that; I want to meet these kids and use art to alleviate their suffering”. During the mission Bleckner held art therapy workshops for the children where he asked them to paint and draw images from their imaginations. First, many of the children had to come to terms with their past and depicted portraits focusing on war, guns, murder, and rage. As time progressed, the children became optimistic and started painting positive images of their hopeful peace filled futures, creating the “Welcome to Gulu” collection."

On May 12th, an anti Human Trafficking benefit was hosted at the United Nations where two hundred of the paintings created by Uganda's child victims (with the help of Mr. Bleckner) were displayed. Although the exhibit was titled "Welcome to Gulu, " it could have just as easily been entitled, "Welcome to Hell." Gulu is a town in Uganda that is the seat of the Uganda government's operations against the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. The leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, heads an army of abducted child soldiers and is one of the most wanted criminals on the planet (see

Poster for the Exhibit

Antonio Maria Costa and Artist Ross Bleckner

The paintings were both beautiful and sad. All the art was/is for sale for the benefit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Criminal Court Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) At the reception the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon , Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Antonio Maria Costa, Actor/Activist Nicholas Cage and Mr. Gabr spoke to the five hundred plus guests. Mr. Ban and Mr. Costa both emphasized that human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking in its ability to cash-flow the world's criminal enterprises. All who spoke said that although the problem of child enslavement may be enormous and complex, we can each do something to help. And that by attending this event and seeing the art, everyone in the room can be inspired to do their part to change the world to be a safer place for children.

Shafik Gabr

Reception host and art project underwriter Mr. Shafik Gabr spoke to the assembled group and said: "While we celebrate tonight the magnificent paintings by the brave children of Gulu, we can not ignore the brutal reality of the suffering that these former child soldiers and abducted girls have had to endure. Many of them have been subjected to horrible atrocities of indescribable proportion. No child, no human, should have to experience the atrocities that these children faced every day of their lives... But allow me to be candid and realistic and share three facts with you; there are over 300,000 child soldiers in more than 30 countries around the world and I believe these numbers are very conservative. Today the illicit trade of human beings for profit is the second largest illicit trade in the world after drugs, and growing, it is estimated today at over 453 billion. The world is fighting this scourge with only US 15 million dollar budget and one dedicated person on human trafficking at the Interpol. Ladies and gentleman, the world needs to deal with these facts in a bold and immediate manner. As an Egyptian I am proud to be here as a representative of the End Human Trafficking Now campaign which is an initiative of the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement, a movement chaired by the First lady of Egypt, which was launched in 2006.”

The evening’s proceeds from benefit tickets sold and the money raised from the sale of the paintings all go toward the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Criminal Court Trust Fund for Victims (TFV); the funds are earmarked to benefit former child soldiers and abducted girls.

According to the press release from Jonathan Marder & Associates: "Mr. Bleckner, now an honorary Goodwill Ambassador to the U.N. (it was announced by Secretary General Moon at the reception), will return to Uganda again next year to continue this project. For his remarkable service, Mr. Bleckner received thanks from Ugandan Ambassador Ruhakana Rugundu. He was joined by many of his friends including designers Calvin Klein and Donna Karen afterwards at a dinner hosted by Mr. Gabr. Mr. Bleckner will be visiting Mr. Gabr in Egypt soon."

Present at the reception were: actor Alec Baldwin; Joy Behar of The View; singer Harry Belafonte; actor Nicholas Cage; DJ Kid Capri; Vanity Fair publisher Graydon Carter; artist Chuck Close; Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Antonio Maria Costa; Shafik and Gigi Gabr; Hotel Rwanda director Terry George; President Emerita of MoMA Agnes Gund; Rosella Jardini; actress Famke Janssen; designers Donna Karan and Calvin Klein; Eleanora Kennedy; artist Jeff Koons; Wendi Murdoch; country music star John Rich; designer Rachel Roy; hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons; Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys; and U.N. Ambassadors from Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Estonia, Fiji, Germany, Iran, Jamaica, Liberia, Maldives, Mauritius, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, South Africa, St. Lucia, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

The reception was hosted by: Anna and Graydon Carter; Chuck Close; Antonio Maria Costa; Shafik and Gigi Gabr; Rosella Jardini; Donna Karan; Eleanora Kennedy; Calvin Klein; Jeff Koons, and Russell Simmons.


Jason Russell and Fashion Designers Donna Karen and Calvin Klein

Artist Ross Bleckner, Marcy Klein and Alec Baldwin

Famke Janssen and Page 6's Richard Johnson

Eleanora Kennedy, Shafik and Gigi Gabr and Nicolas Cage

Amy Fine Collins Alec Baldwin and Marcy Klein
Donna Karen Joy Behar
ABC New's Deborah Roberts Eleanora Kennedy, Amy Fine Collins and Gillian Minter
Singer Kat DeLuna Fashion Designer Rachel Roy

Catharine and David Hamilton, Georgette Mosbacher,
John Rich and Uma Pemmaraju

Here are some quotes from the UN press release about the event:

About The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is the lead UN agency fighting all forms of human trafficking including: sex slaves, child soldiers, forced labor, illegal adoption, and illegal organ transfers. UNODC works with governments, NGOs, the private sector, foundations, the arts and media community, academia and think-tanks to combat human trafficking by raising public awareness, engaging in preventative efforts and enhancing the capacity and skills of criminal justice professionals and policymakers. For more information go to:

About the ICC Trust Fund for Victims (TFV):

The International Criminal Court Trust Funds for Victims is devoted to advocating for and assisting the most vulnerable victims of conflict. As a non-political, cross-cutting organization, it advocates for victims, mobilizes people and resources, and funds or implements innovative projects. It provides the tools for victims to help themselves, empowering them as partners in the process of rebuilding their lives. For more information go to:

About Ross Bleckner:

Ross Bleckner first came to international prominence in the 1980’s with his abstract paintings. His work has been exhibited in esteemed collections throughout the world, including: The Guggenheim, MoMA, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. For the past 20 years, he has taught Studio Art at leading institutions (currently a Professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School). An early supporter of AIDS research, Bleckner has been a board member of ACRIA (AIDS Community Research Initiative of America) since its founding, and has spent more than a decade as its President. As a UNODC Goodwill Ambassador, Bleckner’s duties will include advocacy on behalf of victims of human trafficking and other crimes. For more information go to:

The “Welcome to Gulu” project has received additional generous support from Moschino.





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