Tuesday 27 March 2007

Jump on the bandwagon; it’s there for the taking.

Imnakoya laments the fact that with so many talented African artists, such a dubious initiative by a non-African can gather so much funding.

The black looks site describes the project as a ‘highly offensive, disgusting exploitation of African women’

The only report on this that I can find in the international press (a cursory internet search I have to admit) was on the blog of Peter Walker, a Guardian on line correspondent, whose article, ‘A Travesty of Beauty?’, made no informed comment and ended with a lame: ‘Brave and liberating or appallingly misjudged? Surely the question remains open.’ Perhaps Mr. Walker was merely setting the scene for informed debate.

The latest resourcing update for the World Food Programme in Angola makes for depressing reading. The requirement is for some $90 million dollars over the next two years. The biggest donors so far are the USA with just over $4.5 million followed by France with $3.6 million (the two countries with the most valuable oil production and exploration concessions in Angola), followed by Japan, the UN and Angola itself with donations of around $2 million dollars. Portugal, the former colonial power in Angola came in with a generous $200,000 and Norway with half that. That leaves a shortfall of nearly $65 million, or precisely 71.84% of what is needed.

Visit the websites of GOAL and other worthy charities, and you will find the same thing. WFP hand out food. Nothing complicated, no hidden agendas; until something better and more sustainable comes along, they will try and put sustenance into starving bellies. GOAL, from my experience, do something similar, although not on such a grand and well funded scale. They will try and provide shelter for starving and abused orphans; will provide clean water and health education, at the very least a sympathetic Irish shoulder to cry on. They all, though, are trying to dip into a pot that very definitely has a bottom.

With funding never likely to meet demand, one would imagine that only the most deserving projects would benefit from the largesse of government development programmes or altruistic corporations and individuals. Although sometimes harsh and often crude, it would not be unreasonable to assume that each proposal would at least in part be measured on its ‘cost to beneficiary ratio’, the idea of helping as many as possible per limited dollar expended. Being humans, however, means that no matter how hard we try to remain objective and dispassionate, emotion will always play a part in our decision making process. Emotion is a good thing. It is what distinguishes us from animals and makes us more or less civilised. Without it we would not have the desire to achieve, compassion, or love. It is also the weakness that the less scrupulous can exploit.

Imagine if, as a morally bankrupt individual, a person was able to identify a highly emotive and topical cause. Imagine if that person went still further and connected the first with some other cause equally current and just as emotive, its emotional appeal would accelerate the project proposal straight to the top of the bureaucrat’s in-tray.

I have no idea what Norwegian artist Morten Traavik was on when he had his ‘Eureka’ moment but whatever it was, it must have been good stuff. I can imagine him sweating it out in his sauna, ice-cold aquavit in one hand, a huge spliff in the other. Some lissome young lady swatting hot coals with the branch of a fir tree, when all of a sudden it occurred to him to link the landmine issue with the ‘empowerment’ of African women.

Traavik has managed to persuade enough people and organizations to fund a beauty pageant for female landmine victims, 'Miss Landmine 2007'. He even managed to get the Angolans to donate $15,000. His stated intention was to select one girl from each of Angola’s 18 provinces. In the end, he managed just ten in spite of the fact that he paid them for their services.

His intention, after an exhibition of his work soon to take place in Oslo, is to create a Cosmopolitan style magazine featuring the lucky girls posing with a variety of specially designed clothes and prosthetics. For whose benefit, one wonders? I cannot see the average Angolan amputee rushing out to buy the magazine; they are lucky if they can beg enough on the streets to be able to eat. Even the future of the original ten Miss Landmine’s is not certain. Traavik’s website clearly states in reference to the sustainability of the project, ‘…for the project to grow and develop, with or without the assistance of the original Miss Landmine team’.

Whichever way you look at it, the project does smack of cynical exploitation.

What concerns me though, is not so much the moral indignation that this project arouses, as the sheer waste of valuable funding. The project may well do some good. It will help to spotlight the inhuman horror of landmines; it will raise awareness of the victims, albeit amongst a limited audience; it will undoubtedly have earned for the ten girls greater self-confidence and no-one should blame them for accepting money to take part. But please do not try and convince me that this was the wisest use of scarce funding. Look at it this way. Who gains the most from this project in the long term? The ten girls, or the artist?

Another thing that worries me is the standard of photography. A child with a disposable Kodak could take better composed and lit photographs than the examples that Traavik has displayed on his site. Even the quality of his work is questionable.

I have no idea what this project will cost in the long term but it will be a significant amount. With all the serious and well-conceived proposals out there begging for funding, how is it possible that presumably sane donors decided to fund this project, a project that benefits so few and offends so many?

Mr Walker charitably provides the alternative interpretation of 'brave and liberating'.

'Plain daft' is the expression that springs to my mind.

I have a good idea for a project. It appeals emotionally to those that are interested in oppressed minorities, animal rights, gender issues and rightful ownership. It is called, ‘Land Rights for Gay Whales’.


  1. Are you aware of this:

  2. No, I wasn't. I am sorry that I took a few days to respond but i was a bit busy. Any intitiatives that will manage mine pollution should be welcomed but the claim that they can return 85% of the 'mapped land' into to workable farm land INSTANTLY is interesting. What do they mean by 'mapped land'? I will get back to you!


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.