Black Memories: A Choreographic Performance Provoking Discourse on Race

By Ame Trandem

 At a time when white nationalism and xenophobia is on the rise in the Netherlands, the modern dance performance Black Memories by Aya, Tafel van Vijf and Backbone provokes a timely discourse on race and racism. This multimedia performance, which was presented at the Korzo Theate in Den Haag on 4 April, is an emotionally packed bill with a playful punch. The dance unravels the legacy of racism in the Netherlands while simultaneously awakening the audiences’ consciousness on what skin color, stereotypes and discrimination means in 2019. 

With seven dancers and four musicians, Black Memories transcends time by synchronizing spoken narration with modern dance, street dance, and African traditional dance styles with African, Caribbean, and western beats. The performance begins more than 300 years ago exploring the impact of Dutch colonization and enslavement and then jumps to the present and how racism plays into relationships, the media and day to day life. 

The dancers are storytellers whose movement- which blends closely between flowing and spirited, sharp and snappy, and of struggle and release – creates a flow of strong and unequivocal episodes that explore injustices, power, and freedom. The performance interweaves individual stories that range from the Theory of Lynch which was used by plantation owners to rule and divide slaves to the role of parents’ in forming views on race. Videos projected behind the dancers show clips that further reinforce the subtle and not so subtle ways of intolerance in society. One video projected a Black toddler being called out by other kids, as Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in reference to the Netherlands’ controversial Santa’s helper. Throughout the performance, the audience is challenged to confront history, as well as their own thoughts and prejudices around the issues of race and racism. 

The concept, direction, and chorography of Black Memories is by Herman van Baar, Wies Bloeman and Alida Dors. The dance, which was originally performed for secondary school kids and is now on tour throughout the Netherlands for wider audiences, serves as a catalyst for discussion. This comes at a time when issues of race have emerged on the nation’s political agenda. Just last month, the Forum for Democracy’s Thierry Baudet called for the protection of “Boreal Europe” after his party became the biggest party in the Netherland’s Senate. The term boreal was widely thought to be used in a racial context, as a synonym for “Aryan,” a term borrowed from France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. 

While the concepts of equality and non-discrimination are closely integrated into the international human rights framework, racial profiling and discrimination persists throughout the world. The Netherlands is also vulnerable, with nearly one in four people in the Netherlands having a migrant background, and discrimination reported in the labor market. In 2017, Doetank Peer, the Dutch youth action group carried out investigative research to examine the extent that recruitment agencies would cooperate with discriminatory requests. When asking 30 recruitment agencies to seek white workers for their fictional Dutch company, they found 70 percent of recruitment agencies agreeing with the request. 

In 2015, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on the Netherlands warned that despite the Dutch tradition of tolerance, “the country has for a long time denied the existence of racism and racist practices, thus obscuring the existence of structural and institutional racism leading to the invisibility of people of African descent. Recognition of the complex history of people of African descent in the Netherlands, including the legacy of the slave trade, enslavement, the colonial past, longstanding historical, economic and political relations with several Caribbean countries and new waves of immigration, is a necessary step towards the elimination of barriers affecting the ability of people of African descent to enjoy their fundamental rights.” 

During the second half of 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council will carry out a comprehensive review of the Netherlands on the issue of racism. In the meantime, Black Memories will serve as a valuable performance that interconnects dance and human rights, while raising important questions regarding culture, race and values within the diversity of Dutch society. 

Black Memories will be performing throughout the Netherlands until September 2019. The performance is in Dutch language. The agenda can be found here. 

Ame Trandem has 15 years of experience working on the intersection of human rights and business. She has worked with communities around the world who have been impacted by infrastructure projects, in order to demand corporate accountability and seek remedy and justice. She is also a modern dance enthusiast, who has studied choreography and dance history. 

Acting Together on the World Stage (the documentary and toolkit) – Review

By Juliette Remond-Tiedrez

In 2011, Theatre Without Borders and Brandeis university’s programme in Peacebuilding and the Arts created an Acting Together on the World Stage: Performance and the Creative Transformation of Conflict documentary and toolkit. Combined with a two-volume anthology (which will not be reviewed here), the documentary and the toolkit form part of a project which aims to document the performances and artists who combine art and peacebuilding and help people to organize their own peacebuilding performances. As Creating Rights is also working on these issues I thought it might be worth it to check it out and so I decided to buy the documentary and toolkit.

I first started with the documentary, which seemed natural as it was disk 1. The documentary is a combination of interviews of nine artists from seven different countries: Argentina, Serbia, Uganda, Peru, USA, Cambodia, Australia (there are three additional interviews of artists from the Netherlands, Israel and Palestine in the toolkit). All of those artists try to combine peacebuilding and artistic performances. It is explained that Acting Together decided not to use the term “theatre” as it would exclude traditional rituals, and opted for the term “performance”.

Interestingly the documentary is divided into three acts: Resistance, Rehumanization and Reconciliation. I have to admit that, as I am quite new to this field of combining peacebuilding and arts, I enjoyed that the documentary was organized like that. It was easier to grasp how, concretely, artistic performances could help peacebuilding: they could help by resisting, rehumanizing or reconciliation. In order for the reader to better understand the link between these acts and art and peacebuilding, I will give the following examples from the documentary. 

Act I – Resistance. It was a coincidence that the Dah Theatre was created in Belgrade where the ex-Yugoslavian war started. But when Dijana Milošević, the founder of the Dah Theatre, noticed that the Serbian government was waging war “in the name of the citizens” she, as a Serbian, felt guilty and decided to perform politically engaged plays. For example she expressed her disagreement with the regime in her play The Story of Tea  which campaigned against the persecution of the Muslim population by the Serbian authorities.

Act II – Rehumanization. Ana Correa, a Peruvian actress of indigenous origins never had long hair, the indigenous way, until she had to perform as a peasant in a play staged in communities recovering from war. Since she had short hair, she had to wear fake braids. She decided to grow her hair long, for the play. When she did, her grandmother braided her hair the indigenous way. Correa explains that, in this way, theatre helped her reconnect with and reconstruct her identity.

Act III – Reconciliation. After the Peruvian civil war, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created. The Commission asked the Yuyachkani theatre group to go in rural villages to prepare the population to share their painful testimonies. Yuyachkani decided to perform rituals and short plays on the plazas of those small villages. Augusto Casafranca recounts how, at the end of one performance, the audience did not leave. Spontaneously, he started handing out to the spectators flowers that had been covering a fake grave he used during his play. He recalls how everyone started queuing to get those flowers, and then candles, when he did not have any more flowers, and then leaves. Casafranca explains that the audience saw it as a symbol, as a symbol of mutual reconciliation.

Whether the performance is aimed at resisting, rehumanizing or reconciliation, those performances “have the kind of consequences that mean the audience comes backstage and talks about what they just saw” says Ugandan Charles Mulekwa. Iman Aoun adds that such performances can give a platform to discuss issues that are normally discussed and can even push people to act. After one of her plays in Palestine, a woman whose marriage had been arranged when she was 14, called on the audience to help her own granddaughter whose marriage was currently being arranged. The woman explained that if the audience did not react to her call for help, they would act as if they hadn’t seen the play. As importantly, those performances also enables the audience to cry said a spectator after Catherine Filloux’s play about S-21, an old Khmer Rouge detention centre.

In comparison to the documentary, I find the toolkit of disk 2 more practical. In addition to more videos, which are very much alike to the documentary, the toolkit has a number of PDF documents to help people approach peacebuilding performances. I say “approach” because the documents do not only help one organize such an event but also give advice to policymakers or funders on how to view a peacebuilding performance. To do so, the toolkit offers us a list of questions and recommendations (there are different lists for the different people who would be interested in a peacebuilding performance: artists, peacebuilding practitioners, students and teachers in conflict studies or in art, policy makers, funders and, of course, the audience).

To give a concrete example, the toolkit contains a document called Minimising Risks of Doing Harm. The document sets out recommendations on how to prevent retraumatization, but also on how to keep the artists safe when they could be victims of government repression or paramilitary violence. I found it great that such a document existed in the toolkit because, in the documentary Augusto Casafranca explains that he had to reflect on how important, yet dangerous, his work was. In one of his performances he used firecrackers. When the firecrackers started making noise the audience became afraid because it reminded them of the sound of war. Hopefully, he says, they came back and did enjoy the play but it could have been a possible retraumatization situation for the audience. I therefore appreciate that the toolkit addressed this issue which was raised as a possible problem in the documentary. For me, this shows how complementary the toolkit is to the documentary: the documentary allowed me to have a good overview of what “peacebuilding performances” really meant, and the toolkit helped me understand how we should approach those performances and to what we should pay attention.

To conclude, as a newbie in the field of peacebuilding and arts, I thought Acting Together was very interesting and instructive as it covered a range of themes, issues and links between artistic performances and peacebuilding. However, I was disappointed that we didn’t have access to the full performances but were only able to see small fragments of them during the interviews. The fragments we were able to see acted as trailers and made me curious to see the whole performances.

 

Threat of an erosion of Second World War Era Restitution Principles

By Nolwenn Guibert

On 3 December 1998, 44 governments participating in the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets endorsed what came to be known as the “Washington Principles” for dealing with artwork confiscated by the Nazi Regime during the Second World War. The Washington Principles establish, inter alia, that in assessing whether a work of art has been confiscated by the Nazi Regime and not subsequently restituted, consideration should be given to the “circumstances of the Holocaust era”. In 1999, the Council of Europe adopted a similar set of principles on Looted Jewish Cultural Property. These principles have formed the framework against which restitution claims have been assessed domestically since then.  

In The Netherlands, the Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War (Restitutions Committee) was established in 2002. The Restitutions Committee investigates claims of stolen artwork and offers binding opinions thereon. Thus far, it has issued over 155 rulings, 74 of which have resulted in full restitutions. 

Its most recent opinion of 22 October 2018 has drawn particular international attention. The opinion pertains to Wassily Kandinsky’s 1909 “Painting with Houses”. 

Prior to the war, the painting was owned through inheritance by Emanuel Lowenstein. In October 1940, five months after Germany invaded The Netherlands, it was put up for auction at the Frederik Muller auction house in Amsterdam and acquired by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for 176 Dutch Gilders. The painting has been exhibited in the Museum since then.

The Restitutions Committee examined the circumstances in which the painting came to be auctioned. It found no evidence that the German occupying forces had confiscated the painting. Interestingly, the Committee referred to the 2001 recommendation by the Ekkart Committee—otherwise known as the Origins Unknown Committee, set up to investigate the provenance of works of art repatriated from Germany after the war—according to which sales by private Jewish individuals in The Netherlands from 10 May 1940 onwards must be considered to be involuntary, unless the facts expressly show otherwise. However, it went on to state that this policy recommendation, which involves a reversal of the burden of proof, is not directly applicable to binding opinion cases. It found that while the sale of the painting in October 1940 cannot be considered in isolation from the Nazi Regime, it was also in part the consequence of the deteriorating financial circumstances in which the then owners found themselves well before the German invasion. In the Restitutions Committee’s view, this provided a less powerful basis for restitution than a case in which there was theft or confiscation. The Restitutions Committee further drew on the fact that there was no indication of attempts to claim the painting back from the Museum after the war. Finally, the Restitutions Committee found that there was no evidence that the City Council had not acquired the work in 1940 in good faith. The Restitutions Committee gave consideration to the City Council’s contention in relation to the need to maintain the “public art stock” and its submission that the painting has important art historical value and “is an essential link in the limited overview of Kandinsky’s work in the Museum’s collection, has a corresponding place in that collection, and is included in the permanent display”.

On these grounds, the Restitutions Committee rejected the restitution application, having found that the interests of the applicants did not outweigh the interests of the City Council in retaining the work.

This binding opinion of the Restitutions Committee was heavily decried as a step back in the wrong direction and criticised for introducing a “hierarchy of loss”, whereby confiscation ranks higher than forced sale, as well as for shifting the burden of proof of involuntary loss onto claimants and for weighing the interests of a museum to keep a work of art (and maintain, as the Restitutions Committee puts it, “the public art stock”) against a claimant’s interest in recovering it.

The Restitutions Committee will be subject to scrutiny in the United States this time as the heir to the Katz family is challenging, in a civil lawsuit before the US District Court for the District of South Carolina, the Restitutions Committee recommendations of 2013 and 2017 rejecting the claim of the Katz family for restitution of 143 paintings and other artworks currently in the possession of several Dutch institutions.

The Restitutions Committee had found that, contrary to private owners, art dealers operating during the German Occupation still had to prove that the sale was involuntary. In this specific case, the Restitutions Committee found that, although the situation was duress, there was no evidence that the sales had been made under duress. In the civil lawsuit, the claimants submit, on the contrary that duress affected all art transactions by the Katz family during that period and that “Defendants have never owned the Artworks, and have seen evidence that Firma D. Katz owned the Artworks at the time of their sale under duress. To allow Defendants to retain the Artworks-and to profit from their display, in many cases-is unconscionable, violates agreed principles of World War II art restitution, and goes against the weight of both evidence and history.”

 

Everyone can be a Pussy Riot (Art and Resistance – Chapter 1)

By Manon Beury

“I cannot attend the Pussy Riot’s performance tonight. Do you want my ticket?” 

It is a beautiful gift that Fiana, founder of Creating Rights, offered me this Thursday morning.  On January 31st, 2019, we waited for the show to start at 20:30 at Paard in The Hague. I didn’t know what to expect from what the venue’s website described as “a theatre project” by the Pussy Riot Theatre “with fevered monologues underpinned by real footage and frenetic noise-punk.” Little did I know that every single minute of Riot Days would resonate with Creating Rights’ focus on human rights, justice and art. My expectation, however, was that this opportunity would be a great starting point for a project that I had in mind: exploring the multifaceted interplay between art and resistance.

The Russian feminist art collective Pussy Riot was created in 2011 with the explicit goal of conducting guerrilla action through art performance. The link between art and resistance cannot be clearer. One year later, international attention turned to Russia when three members of the Pussy Riot, including co-founder Maria (Masha) Alyokhina, were sentenced to two years in prison following a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Smuggling a guitar and an amplifier into the church, their face covered with coloured knitted balaclavas that will soon become internationally famous, they performed a “Punk Prayer” at the altar to protest against the Orthodox Church’s support for Putin’s election campaign.

Based on Maria Alyokhina’s newly published book of the same name, the performance Riot Days relates the story of this protest, her subsequent arrest and incarceration. It is not theatre nor a concert or a mix of both. Alyokhina herself is on stage, accompanied by Kiryl Masheka, Diana Burkot, and Oleg Larionov. On minimalist electronics, they rattle off a long monologue in Russian, only interspersed with jazzy saxophone, hysterical drums solos and some of Pussy Riot’s songs. The text is a mix of Alyokhina’s poetic memoir, quotes that influenced her, dissenting political statements and excerpts from the trial transcripts. Each word is translated on a gigantic screen behind the stage, where documentary footage frantically unfurls and political slogans in bold white letters on black screen flash from the screen as they sing or shout in unison. It is punk, wild and yet perfectly synchronized. The outburst of audio-visual effects makes it impossible to read the subtitles, watch the video and enjoy the show all at once, especially when you cannot stop dancing. As a result, I wanted to watch the performance again at the minute it was over. Or read the book.

“MOTHER MARY, BE A FEMINIST!”

The performance starts with a powerful prayer chant in an atmosphere charged with defiant reverence. While the screen shows footage of the preparation of the Punk Prayer in February 2012, the audience dives into the young band’s excitement and Alyokhina’s self-doubts: “Do I have the right to do this or am I a barbarian?” All along the show, she will interrogate what is right, just or fair.

“SECURITY TOOK KATYA’S GUITAR AFTER 40 SECONDS. 40 SECONDS OF  CRIME.”

The pace of the song raises relentlessly as we follow the band in hiding throughout Moscow. With humour, the performers enumerate golden rules to escape the police: “We ate whatever God sent our way, which was usually pasta.” Fragmented images of the band running through metro stations and Alyokhina giving interviews to foreign journalists from the bathrooms of a café. Smiles on the audience’s face swiftly fade when the image of a police van appears on screen. In March 2012, Alyokhina, Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina (Katya) Samutsevich were arrested and charged with “disorderly conduct, committed with the purpose of inciting religious hatred by a group of persons in an intentional conspiracy”. Restless, wearing their balaclavas and panda masks, the performers recount the trial, mistreatment by the police and the sentence of two years in prison in August 2012. Dropping her mask, protected by a black hood, Alyokhina stands at the centre of the stage to tell the story of her incarceration and solitary confinement in a Siberian penal colony: “the republic of convicts” in the Ural mountains. 

Pussy Riot on stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh, with Maria ‘Masha’ Alyokhina, centre, in balaclava. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer The Guardian, 19 August 2018

“THIS IS WHAT PROTEST SHOULD BE: DESPERATE, SUDDEN AND JOYOUS.”

The darkest moment of the performance is suddenly disrupted when Kiryl Masheka starts throwing countless bottles of water to the crowd. Standing close to the stage, I am soaked but grateful as the audience around me finally begins to dance and respond to what happens on stage. Defiance takes over the gloom when the performers strip their hoodies and light their cigarettes on stage before engaging in a frenetic dance on ravey techno music. Alyokhina explains what life looks like in today’s Russian gulags: tales of human rights abuses, protests and hunger strikes, inmates’ solidarity and romantic love between women.

“CREATE REALITY.”

Having served 21 months in prison, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released in December 2013 following an amnesty approved by the Russian Parliament. Riot Days ends with the pictures of political activists who remain imprisoned. In the venue’s hall, the collective sells t-shirt proclaiming that “Everyone can be a Pussy Riot”, destined to finance the lawyers’ fees of those in the penal colonies. Art financing justice and resistance.

“Who killed my brother?” The story of Luciano Arruga

By Njomza Miftari 

“Enforced disappearances” is a phrase that is not frequently mentioned in the European human rights context, however, this is not the case in regions such as Latin America where enforced disappearances has dreadfully impacted thousands of families in the last decades. “Who killed my brother?”, is a documentary directed by Ana Fraile and Lucas Scavino which sheds light on the issue by following the story of Luciano Arruga. The story of Luciano Arruga is about a 16-year-old boy who went missing on the 31st of January 2009 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The documentary follows the events carried out by his sister Vanesa Orieta who desperately seeks to find justice for her missing brother. It is evident from the beginning that her fight would not be an easy one but she is a force to be reckoned with. Her support grew stronger throughout the years with friends and families of Luciano joining Vanesa’s cause and together being able to organize collective demonstrations, demanding action by institutions and making sure their voices were being heard. She also travels to Geneva where she meets with Sara Oviedo, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in order to bring attention to her case and to discuss the lack of due diligence by Argentina at an international platform. It is an emotional journey but nonetheless a necessary one on her path to justice.


Copyright Pulpofilms

In 1980, the Commission of Human Rights (Human Rights Council) established the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of their family members who had reportedly disappeared. According to their report in 2009, the number of cases reported to the working group from Argentina from 1980 is 3,449 cases.  According to the Arruga family, although it has been 35 years of democracy in Argentina, the case of Luciano and other cases of enforced disappearances shows that Argentina is having the same practices similar to a once known dictatorship: kidnapping, torture, killings and disappearances. Democracy has been mainly sporadic, or worse, it has come in a wave of segregation and oppression among favela and ghetto areas.


Copyright Pulpofilms

The documentary shows the intense repercussions that remain among the family and friends of the disappeared and more importantly providing better insight to a situation that is yet to be understood by nonnative Argentinians. The lack of transparency from institutions and high level of corruption are some of the factors underlined in this documentary. For instance, Vanessa describes her experience at the police station, when Luciano was initially arrested prior to his disappearance, that, upon her arrival she had heard Luciano yell from the holding cell “Take me out of here, they are beating me to death.”   

On the 31st of January 2019, it was the 10 year anniversary of Luciano Arruga’s disappearance where Vanessa and hundreds of other people (as seen from the picture below) marched in General Paz y Mosconi in solidarity with friends and families of victims who have disappeared.


Copyright Canal Abierto 

The documentary will be screened on the 9th of February 2019, 19:00 hrs at Filmhaus Nürnberg during the Lateinamerikafilmtage in Nuremberg, Germany. Pulpofilms is also looking to partner with any organization who is willing to screen the documentary and raise awareness. For more information, please see the links below:

ana@pulpofilms.com

www.pulpofilms.com

https://www.facebook.com/Pulpofilms/

https://www.facebook.com/LucianoArruga/

 

 

Women are heroes by JR

By Juliette Remond-Tiedrez 

I went to JR’s exposition Momentum at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (in English European House of Photography) in Paris mainly because I was interested in one of his projects: Women are heroes.

Maybe I should warn you that, if you decide to go to this exhibition after reading this article, you shouldn’t be surprised if there are only a few pieces of art from Women are heroes at the Maison. This is, first, because Momentum gathers many of JR’s projects and, second, because one who is aware of JR’s style would know that you can find his art mostly outside museums: because “in the street, we reach people who never go to museums”.

I should perhaps explain how JR works for you to understand why his artwork is outdoors. JR is an anonymous 35 years old French photographer who prints large black-and-white images and pastes them on buildings, lorries or other constructions that are in public locations. So for example, in Women are heroes, JR decided to photograph the faces, and more specifically the eyes, of women from all over the world and then to paste them on different constructions, like, in the below photo, on the houses in a favela.


Brazil, Rio de Janeriro, Favela Morro da Providência, 2008

JR explains that he dedicated his Women are heroes project to women and women only because he wanted to pay tribute to “those who play an essential role in society but who are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism”and because, “through the woman’s conditions, sometimes you realise the conditions of the country”.

The project, which includes the gigantic photographs that were taken and pasted throughout the countries JR travelled, a movie, but also pictures of the photographs themselves which can be seen at the Momentum exhibition or online, is a powerful one.

It is powerful,  first of all, because of its universality. From 2007 to 2010, JR went to Brazil, Cambodia, India, Kenya, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The focus, however, is not on where the photos have been taken but rather the women themselves. In the documentary one can guess where they are, but never does JR put a label or a title saying which country he is in. This creates a feeling that the women’s stories could be anyone stories, wherever they are. And the project became truly international when, back from his travels, JR shared his pictures and stories with all of Paris during La Nuit Blanche (The Sleepless Night).


France, Paris, Ile Saint-Louis, 2009

Furthermore, the project deals with a range of topics going from the violence in the favelas, the repression of the civilian population by the government, sexual violence, forced marriage, to poverty. This makes the project even more interesting, in my opinion, as it doesn’t “discriminate” an issue as being less important than another one. JR is not here to decide if he wants to give time to rape or gang violence, or doesn’t do a hierarchy between them, he just gave the floor to those women who then chose what they want to talk about.

I personally find the project powerful also because I feel that the images JR creates couldn’t be stronger. For example, in the documentary, a woman explains that her neighbourhood is being destroyed because of agreements between the local authorities and an enterprise that is interested in the land. And, as the buildings of the neighbourhood are torn down by bulldozers, one can see that the face of the woman, which has been pasted on a wall, is being hammered by a man who is trying to demolish the building. The message couldn’t be clearer: as the man destroys the buildings, he destroys the woman and all of the other inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Another example is the story told by one man in the Kibera slums, Kenya, concerning what the President said that there were no humans in those slums, only cows and pigs. But seeing the eyes of the women pasted on houses and trains, looking at sky from the slums, it cannot be said anymore that there are no humans living in the slums. When a dozen eyes stare at you from Kibera or from the favela, you have to look back and notice them. Tere is no possibility to deny them anymore.

 


Kenya, Kibera Slum, 2009

And finally, I find the project even more powerful because of the story of one of JR’s piece of art. Still as part of the project, JR pasted eyes on the containers of a ship leaving France for Malaysia. While on its way, the ship met with a boat full of migrants coming from the Libyan coast, rescued them and dropped them in Syracuse, Italy. As mentioned earlier I liked that Women are heroes touched upon a number of issues, and here, without the artist even wanting it, the piece of art dealt with a new issue: migration. The symbol of a Women are heroes eyed boat rescuing migrants at sea is particularly beautiful.


France, le Havre, 2014

I should probably conclude this article by saying that I, of course, recommend Momentum but I above all recommend following what JR is doing because, as I explained before, his art cannot only be found indoors, in a museum. If you, reader, decide to go to the exhibition you will only see a few pictures and small models of what the street artworks looked like. But hopefully this post will have helped you to understand what hides behind those women’s eyes and what the bigger picture is.

And in any case, the exhibition is worth going to as nearly all of JR’s projects have a social aspect behind them, a bottom line that seems to be that he wants to change the world, little by little, through art. You can, for example see his famous Chronicles of Clichy Montfermeil, a place where two teenagers died electrocuted after hiding in an electric plant station because they were fleeing from the police, his animated Guns in America animated fresco, his anti-segregation I Am a Man photograph, etc.

#metoo allegations rock the ballet world

By Nolwenn Guibert

Ballet was born during the Renaissance in the courts of Italy and developed further under Louis XIV of France. Different “schools” or artistic methods later evolved in Russia, Sweden the United Kingdom, and the USA. Tradition is central to the teaching and transmission of ballet. Ballet students around the world perpetuate this tradition by being trained from a very young age usually by former professional dancers who have also gone through the same rigorous training. They are taught discipline, resilience, and the respect for hierarchy. Even today, at the school of the Paris Opéra Ballet, ballet students stop in their tracks in the corridors to courtesy to adults. Professional ballet is highly competitive and requires the very best of the mind and the body. Hundreds of young dancers compete for spots in professional ballet schools and the top companies. The competition is even tougher for female ballet dancers than it is for males as there are fewer aspiring male dancers. Further, save for a few notable exceptions, company directors and high profile choreographers are still predominantly male.

It is in this context that in 2018, allegations of harassment, including sexual harassment, started emerging in world renowned companies when usually silent dancers started making their individual and collective voices heard.

At the beginning of 2018, New York City Ballet, one of the top ballet companies in the USA, was left without an artistic leader when long-serving ballet master Peter Martins retired after the company received allegations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse by him. Mr. Martins vigorously disputed the allegations and in February, an independent inquiry ordered by New York City Ballet found the claims could not be corroborated. However, inquiry’s findings have been disputed and the allegations left a stain on the reputation of the company.

A few months later, a former student of the School of American Ballet, the top ballet school in the USA that feeds into New York City Ballet, filed a lawsuit against New York City Ballet, alleging the sharing of sexually explicit photos by male dancers, including her ex-boyfriend and principal dancer, Chase Finlay, and an “uncontrolled fraternity house environment”, in which the company “encouraged and permitted its male dancers to abuse, assault, degrade, demean, dehumanize and mistreat its female dancers and other women”. She argued that a “fraternity like atmosphere permeates the ballet and its dancers and embolden them to violate the basic rights of women.” Finlay resigned from New York City Ballet in August after the investigation was launched. The other two dancers were suspended. New York City Ballet management stated that it has taken appropriate disciplinary action against the named dancers and bears no liability for the actions specified in the complaint.

During the company’s fall fashion gala, the dancers took to the stage and rallied behind principal dancer, Teresa Reichlen, who addressed the company’s tumultuous year and stated: “We will not put art before common decency or allow talent to sway our moral compass.” She spoke of “the high moral standards that were instilled in us when we decided to become professional dancers” and affirmed that “each of us standing here tonight is inspired by the values essential to our art form: dignity, integrity, and honour.”

Similar discussions are being held outside of the USA. In March, Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet argued that there must be a wider conversation about “people skills” in the ballet world. He himself has witnessed dancers humiliated, harassed and threatened.

At the Paris Opera Ballet, one of the oldest and most conservative ballet companies, a recent leaked 200-page internal survey details grievances against former star and current artistic director, Aurélie Dupont. Of the 154 dancers interviewed, 77% say they were victims of moral harassment or that they saw moral harassment and 26% say they were victims or witnessed sexual harassment.  After almost three months of silence, Dupont promised to meet individually with each of the dancers and to commission an external audit. While the dancers deemed that these measures are promising, 2019 will be a test year for companies around the word in a balancing exercise between preserving the tradition and foundation of ballet and ensuring the fair and adequate treatment of dancers.

 

Expressing the Complexity of Gender Based Violence through Art and Poetry – An Emotional Journey

By Andrea Breslin

Last week I attended the launch of an Art and Poetry Exhibition on Gender Based Violence in Inspire Gallery, in Dublin City Centre. This exhibition was developed to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) and more generally the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence. The exhibition, a mix of the art work of Marjorie Laville Pain and the poetry of the staff of Trócaire, a humanitarian and development NGO headquartered in Ireland, explores the issue of gender based violence in a way that is subtle in certain ways, yet incredibly striking in its impact.

The art work is painted by Trócaire staff member Marjorie Laville Pain, and represents the different elements and dynamics of GBV in a way that encourages interaction and debate, sparking conversations and further exploration of GBV in all its forms, and with all its wide-ranging consequences. All the poems are written by Trócaire staff, and represent both the vulnerabilities and capacities of GBV survivors, again in a way that is easy to interact with.

The exhibition overall illustrates not only the fear, control, and pain associated with gender based violence, but also, and crucially, the strength, resilience, and agency of survivors, both visually and through the effective juxtaposition of poetry, to the strength and resilience of the many women and girls directly impacted by GBV and their families and friends.

The exhibition continues until Human Rights Day on 10th December 2018, and is open to the public daily.

In addition to the artworks and the poetry, three powerful documentary animations were screened as part of the event. These animations created by Yangon Film School, in collaboration with Trócaire’s local partner Gender Equality Network (GEN), are based on separate testimonies from survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) in Myanmar. A group of students from across Myanmar were trained by Lisa Crafts, an award-winning filmmaker, animator and educator specialising in docuanimation and Paromita Vohra, an award-winning filmmaker, writer and gender activist from India.The ‘docuanimations’ were created with the support from the Heinrich Boell Foundation and SIDA.

Part of the process was to explore the nuances of gender based violence – its root causes, the emotional impact on survivors, and the way in which the structural, cultural and psychological elements of the phenomenon are interwoven. The ‘docuanimations’ then developed, aim to bring these themes to a wider audience using documentary narrative approaches using real testimony from survivors.

Ethical representation of GBV can be very challenging, and this innovative mix of painting, poetry, and ‘docuanimation’ is simultaneously striking and inspiring, and achieves communication of messages around GBV in a respectful and safe way.

 

 

 

The haunting shadows of the trauma of forced marriages during the Khmer Rouge Regime expressed through classical dance

By Nolwenn Guibert

On 16 November 2018, the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) pronounced its judgement in Case 002/02 against NUON Chea, the Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea and KHIEU Samphan, the Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea. In a landmark ruling, the two most senior Khmer Rouge leaders still alive were found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Only a summary of the written Judgement is currently available to the public.

After the take-over of power of the Khmer Rouge in 1975, cities were evacuated and families were divided up by age and gender and sent to labour camps. It is traditionally estimated that about 20% of the entire Cambodian civilian population was killed during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979, in a vast starvation and mass killing operation. The ECCC Trial Chamber found that there existed a nationwide policy to regulate family building and marriage, which was implemented by Party cadres at all administrative and military levels. This policy was designed to replace the role of parents in the selection of a suitable spouse, to force couples to marry and produce children, for the purpose of increasing the country’s population within 10 to 15 years. In this context, an estimated half a million of surviving men and women were forced to marry and consummate their marriage. The ECCC Trial Chamber found both accused to be guilty of forced marriage as another inhumane act, a crime against humanity.

In 2017, the ECCC took part in a reparations project centered around a classical dance performance by the Khmer Arts Academy and made possible by a UN Women grant. The dance explores forced marriage under the Khmer Rouge regime and displays an exhibition of oral testimonies from survivors, many of whom have testified in Case 002/02. The dance is narrated by two characters: a couple who was forced to be married by the Khmer Rouge, but at the same time found mutual respect for each other and stayed together. A conversation starts between them exploring the different points of view involved in forced marriage.

The idea for the dance was first devised by Theresa de Langis, the lead researcher on the Cambodia Women’s Oral History Project. For de Langis, who spent years gathering the oral accounts of witnesses to and survivors of sexual violence during the Khmer Rouge period, classical dance was a way to reach the survivors, a lot of whom cannot read. This is added to the fact that in Cambodia, Khmer classical dance is of central importance to cultural identity and is the most revered art form. De Langis’ thoughts are shared by John Shapiro, the executive director of the Khmer Arts Academy, for whom: “Classical dance is an art form that usually depicts the stories of gods and kings. […] Taking these stories, their very personal stories of trauma, and elevating it to the level of stories of gods – it’s honouring them in a way that within their culture says this is important”.

The performance was choreographed by Sophiline Shapiro, a classically trained dancer and the artistic director of the Khmer Arts Academy, using interviews and consultations. Shapiro’s hope is both to publicly acknowledge the trauma of these victims but also to engage the younger generations that may not be familiar with this unique aspect of their country’s history in discussions on the lasting impact of forced marriages on gender relations.

 

Young Liberian artists join the debate over accountability for war-time crimes

By Felix Lüth***

The movement demanding accountability for crimes committed during the two civil wars in Liberia was recently joined by a new and somewhat unusual group – young Liberian artists. So far, the debate (see previous blog posts here and here) had been carried by established justice advocates including prominent journalists, lawyers and other Liberian and international civil society members. But during a recent 4-day Cartooning for Justice Workshop, students from the Liberian Visual Arts Academy and other young artists started to raise their voices or rather their pens.

From 1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003, Liberia was beset by two civil wars which were notorious for their brutality and the widespread use of child soldiers. They not only resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands but also left many Liberians mutilated and traumatized. Today, 15 years after the end of the second civil war, still no one has been held accountable in Liberia.

During the workshop, students learned storytelling and cartooning techniques and how they can use them to contribute to the ongoing accountability debate. After a brief introduction to the main philosophical approaches to the justification of punishment – often referred to as ‘theories of punishment’ – they were asked to find artistic responses through their cartoons to the question whether and why war-time crimes should be punished in Liberia today.

Cartoons? Comic strips? One may ask, what can they possibly contribute to such serious and complex questions?

The answer, I believe, is: Very much! Cartoons can exactly help with making complex issues more accessible both in terms of the message and reaching a broader audience.

 

A cartoon is a message being conveyed through a story in a sequence of drawings. When communicating a message mostly through images, we must simplify and focus on what is most important. However, when informed by in-depth research, in this case legal research on the theories of punishment and how they relate to the Liberian post-civil war context, a simple message does not have to be a simplistic one.

Cartoons cannot only make the message itself more accessible but also reach people who are not (yet) actively engaged in a public debate. This is particularly relevant in Liberia.

So far, the accountability debate has been led by senior civil society members from the capital, Monrovia. While this is of course quite normal, especially in a society like Liberia where much value is attached to respecting your elders, cartoons can help informing and engaging young Liberians who are not only many in numbers (over 63% of the Liberian population is under the age of 24) but also the future decision-makers of the country. In the same way, cartoons can help carry this important debate from Monrovia to the countryside where many of the most atrocious crimes were committed but people often have a harder time receiving and understanding written information.

In the words of one of the students: “Cartooning is also important because it gives those who don’t read and write the ability to know what is going on in Liberia and around the world.”

Finally, for many Liberians who have experienced the civil wars, it can be difficult to talk about it. Here, cartoons offer a less intimidating, more playful form of communication. In this sense, cartoons can also help bridging the generation gap between Liberians who have experienced the civil wars and those who have not.

The importance of cartoons and art in relation to debates on justice and accountability was widely confirmed by participants in the workshop, other members of society and the media.

Mae Azango, the award-winning Liberian journalist from FrontPage Africa, commented: “That [cartooning] is a very brilliant way to make the ordinary people like the market women, students, and many others understand the subject matter”.

“I think cartoons can help the situation of justice in Liberia by moving fear [from victim to perpetrator]” emphasised a student of the workshop.

“Combining art and justice is a way of igniting the flame for justice in Liberia” stated Hassan Bility, the director of the Global Justice and Research Project.

Cartoons can play an important role in promoting inclusive and informed debates on accountability for crimes committed during the civil wars in Liberia, in particular when informed by thorough research. But the contributions by young Liberian artists are not limited to cartoons: exciting theatre and music projects on issues of justice and accountability are on the way.

The workshop was organized by a group of different partners, including students from the Graduate Institute Geneva, the Geneva-based criminal justice NGO Civitas Maxima, its Monrovia-based sister organization Global Justice Research Project, and the independent Swiss-Congolese cartoonist, JP Kalonji, and sponsored by the Kathryn W. Davis Peace Foundation. A particularly important contribution was made by Livio Silva, Master student at the Graduate Institute Geneva, who managed the project and was part of the research team.

 

*** Felix Lüth is a Legal Counsel at Civitas Maxima, a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Institute Geneva and a Swiss National Science Foundation Research Fellow at King’s College London