Unsung Heroes

By Juliette Remond-Tiedrez 

Since the beginning of October, the small Galerie Jospeh in the centre of Paris has been holding the exhibition Unsung heroes created by photographer Denis Rouvre and the NGO Médecins du monde, Doctors of the World. The exhibition gathers more than 60 portraits of women from all around the world.

As an international law student, the first thing that interested me was the stories of each woman, what had happened to them and what human rights abuses they had suffered. Some texts were very interesting as they reminded me of testimonies I had to read while doing my internship at the International Criminal Court. Indeed, most rape victims don’t dare to explain what happened to them, they don’t want to use terms like “penis” or “vagina”, they would rather say that the rapist “fell on them”. It was the same here.

After a while, however, I started focusing on the pictures themselves, after all I had also come for the portraits. I realised that the stories were actually as powerful as the pictures. Indeed, the women often pose proudly but one can still sense their pain. The fact that photographer Denis Rouvre manages to grasp their strength and sadness at the same time is quite impressive. Furthermore, nearly all of them look directly into the camera which gives the impression that they are making real eye contact with the viewer. This makes the pictures even more touching.

What I enjoyed about this exhibition is that it approached gender-based violence through different issues: some women talked about rapes committed by soldiers, family members, or employers, others testify about their experience as a maid in another countries. Other subjects such as homophobia, transsexualism, reproductive rights, migration or homelessness were also discussed. I thought that was well-made as it made the viewer realise that gender-based violence can mean a lot of different things.

Picture taken by Alexander Royall

This exhibition seems to come at an interesting time as France is currently debating whether the crime of feminicide, to kill a female because she is a female, should be included in its Criminal code. While on my way to the exhibition I actually walked by one of the numerous feminist tags on the Parisians building which stated “ni una menos” (not one woman less), the slogan used by Argentinian feminist protestors. As the exhibition guides you through different countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nepal and Colombia, a few portraits are from French women who criticise France’s legal system which does not seem able to respond to domestic violence. It was therefore a very up to date exhibition.

Finally, it seems interesting to note that a number of Congolese women referred to Doctor Denis Mukwege, the 2018 Nobel Prize winner. This is not surprising as Doctors of the World focus on rights to health such as contraception, abortion and AIDS and Doctor Mukwege, as a gynaecologist and activist, has played an important role in this domain in the DRC but also at the world level. To give an example, Denis Mukwege praised the exhibition saying he hoped it would “raise awareness, especially among men, that the elimination of gender based violence is not only a government and justice’s issue, it has to start at the individual’s level and begins with the awareness-raising and education from a young age”.

Picture taken by Alexander Royall

Sadly, the exhibition moved from Paris to Bordeaux last Friday, so Parisians won’t be able to go see Unsung heroes anymore. However, the good news is that a selection of nine portraits is available on Médecins du monde’s website, so all English, French and Spanish speakers can have an online glimpse of how the exhibition was.


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.