Kenny Cole’s "Darfur at Our Doorstep: A New Narrative" is on view through February at Zoot Coffee, 31 Elm St./Route 1. The show comprises two groupings: one ("Darfur at Our Doorstep") first exhibited in 2011 at the Meg Perry Center in Portland; and another first exhibited last year as a part of Portland Public Library's "150 Years: PPL Reconfigured."

Together, these two bodies of work bridge the contentious gap between past injustices and those ongoing on today’s global stage that those of African origin and African heritage might close and find commonality from.

A public event Saturday, Feb. 23, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. will bring together the Monroe artist and the man whose stories inspired this work. El-Fadel Arbab escaped genocide in Darfur, Sudan, when he was 12. He is now an American citizen who speaks out against genocide and injustice that is happening in the Sudan and elsewhere.

“His story was transcribed into my drawings and he and I will … discuss my artwork, recent developments in Sudan and answer questions about the migration crisis across the world,” said Cole.

Cole said his first step for this series of drawings was looking up the word "Sudan" in the dictionary. He soon started to discover many other words on the same page as “Sudan” seemed to fit into this story. He decided to make each word into an acronym of his own design to further guide the word’s meaning toward his purpose. The he wove parts of his interview with Arbab into the acronym's words.

“Additionally I included the history of Chevron oil, which was the first oil company to discover oil in the Sudan and which has since left the Sudan; a speech given by the late John Garang upon the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan in 2005; text from the Darfur Peace Agreement and finally statistics on weapons used by the Sudan military,” he said.

The inspiration for Cole’s contribution to "150 Years: PPL Reconfigured" came from the collection of hundreds of letters saved after the great fire of 1866 in Portland, which he discovered via the Portland Public Library’s Digital Commons.

“I was immediately attracted to the beautiful cursive handwriting that was common in 1866, having had incorporated hand script myself, using a dip pen, in past artwork of mine,” he said.

Further research online, of the description of the day of the fire, “began to reveal strange coincidences and symbolic overtones to me, he said. The fire occurred on the Fourth of July, the first Fourth after the end of the Civil War, and the cry of “Fire!” was made by William Wilberforce Ruby, a local merchant who would eventually become one of the first African-American officers in the Portland Fire Department.

“The parallels between the current phenomenon of African immigration to the Portland region since the early 2000s, the understory of African slavery as one of the narratives of our national division and civil war and a fire occurring on the most important celebratory day in our nation, guided me to explore contemporary hate speech and the problems of patriotism and ex-patriotism all reconfigured as old, worn, singed artifacts,” he said.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or