Sunday, March 1, 2009

Intended Consequences

One of the difficulties I have with blogging is that my world often shifts back and forth between a set of polar opposite thoughts and philosophies. Unfortunately, this does not make for good writing. I much prefer the world of Jim Rome where the primary objective is, "have a take, don't suck." For me, sometimes it's tough to take a side.

Recently I came across the Intended Consequences project; my latest conundrum. Intended Consequences is a book and now a gallery exhibit portraying Rwandan women who were raped during the genocide of 1994. It's a series of portraits of mother and child, captioned with a description of the rape and often the mother's feelings toward the child. The dilemma for me is in determining whether this project is a sincere attempt to better the lives of women and children in Rwanda, or an exploitative project designed to bulk up a short list of aide organizations at the expense of these children.

The issue of sex crimes is very sensitive especially when children are involved. Typically it is unethical for journalists to photograph victims of sexual violence or even describe in much detail these types of crimes. There is certainly a 3rd world, African aspect of this situation that somehow makes it acceptable to do this sort of thing with these children in Rwanda. Let's not forget that these are just young children, who are well documented in this project as being unwanted and unloved. Does it make sense for a mother quoted as saying, "I don't love this child," to give proper consent for that same child? Wronging Rights has a great "take" for the argument that this project is not looking out for the best interest of these children.

But it is always my instinct to side with projects like this. Maybe it's just my bleeding heart, but I live for stuff like this. I'm in North Carolina right now, what do I know about rape victims in Rwanda unless somebody does something like this. There are reports that similar systematic rape is currently taking place in Darfur. What are we doing to stop this? The truth is that rape is quite common whenever a military force invades an enemy territory. The only way to fight this fact is to bring the issue to the front of conversation. It must have been a devastating blow to the moral of our US troops in Vietnam when images of child rape victims were published in the media, but I have to believe that this type of exposure now serves as an effective deterrent for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. If anyone is doing something to prevent large scale rape, it has to be Jonathan Trogovnik, the creator or Intended Consequences.

But above all, there is something about this whole project that is very raw. I almost wish that the intent of the book and the gallery wasn't to raise money for any kind of cause, but just to shed light on this issue. These are such beautiful women and children, stained with an incredibly horrific past. I want to hear them. America gave Rwanda a large collective cold shoulder back in 1994, and the worst thing we could do now is have similar attitude once again. I'm not entirely comfortable with Intended Consequences, but I am infinitely more uncomfortable turning my back on a group of people unhappy about their circumstances.


Amy said...

I don't really have an opinion yet, but a few thoughts....a documentary I saw last week called Playground also had personal narratives of women in the U.S. who had been victims of sexual violence as children. I think they were all about 18-19 years old now. While similar, the two projects have a very different feel. The narratives in Playground communicate the underlying message...this happened to me, and it was aweful, and I am standing here sharing my story because people need to know what goes on in their backyard, and because I don't want this to happen to any other little girl. I haven't had a chance to watch the entire film, but this project seems to communicate more of the message...this unimaginable thing happened to these now we need to give them money. While Playground brings to light a situation so that hopefully it can be changed and shows stories of survivors as well as the reality that most women continue to struggle the rest of their lives, it does so to make us think of our own lives and attitudes and how we need to change....but there is something about this project that does seem a bit exploitative to me.

Is that a bad thing? Who knows....people in the U.S. sell their stories all the time for the tabloids, or 20/20. If these women choose to sell their stories for money is it any different? What about things like Jon & Kate plus 8...while not victims of sexual violence, those kids didn't give consent to have their lives broadcast for the world to see.

I'm reminded of the mindset we saw when we were in Africa, that so many Africans see Americans and their money as a meal ticket. They do whatever they need to in order to get foreign funding. Do these women and children want to share their stories? Are they doing it because it is the only capital they have? Are they promised a better life for themselves and their children in return? And if so are they wrong for taking it? Is it any different from women who sell their bodies or their children because it is their only way to get money? Are they selling their soul in exchange for a dime?

On another note, again..they are not victims of sexual violence, but there is a well known photographer named Sally Mann who photographed her children ages 10-16 completely nude. It is an interesting discussion of what is art? and can children consent? real answers, just more questions.

Chris Waluk said...

I saw a Sally Mann exhibit when I was in college. The exhibit came with a little controversy, but the exhibit was pretty harmless. Sally was the mother of the naked children, and she waited till they were all adults before displaying the pictures. Every parent takes naked pictures of their kids at some point, Sally just happened to let her kids run around naked almost up until puberty. I'd feel weird about those pictures if the naked kids were still kids, but they were all adults who gave their mother their full consent. The pictures were very innocent and could hardly be considered pornographic.

Amy said...

Firstly, does it matter that she was their mother? Some would argue that makes it worse.

Secondly, some of the images are in good taste, (and don't get me wrong, I love sally mann) but some of the others (not widely shown after their first release due to their controversial content) are highly controversial. In our society, how can images of a completely naked 9 year old boy swinging on a barn door not be? If anyone else...not an artist..had and displayed naked pictures of their 10 & 12 yr. olds...child services would probably take them away.

An excerpt from an article in the New York Times "The nudity of the children has caused problems for many publications, including this one. When The Wall Street Journal ran a photograph of then-4-year-old Virginia, it censored her eyes, breasts and genitals with black bars. Artforum, traditionally the most radical magazine in the New York art world, refused to publish a picture of a nude Jessie swinging on a hay hook."

Thirdly, I'm pretty sure her children were still children at least 7, 10, & 12 years old if not younger, when the photos were first shown

You can see this article published in The New York Times in 1992 documenting that fact.