Monday, March 26, 2012

Women as Peacemakers and as Warriors

The Atlantic Monthly recently ran an article by Diana Wueger entitled, "Women in War, Women in Peace." Wueger gives an excellent overview of the role woman have played during and after conflicts, both as victims of war crimes and as witnesses and negotiators of post-war peace, reconciliation and judicial efforts. This piece introduces the recent five-part PBS series, Women, War and Peace. This series includes the documentaries,  Pray the Devil Back to Hell,  the "story of the Liberian women who took on the warlords and regime of dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a brutal civil war and won a once unimaginable peace for their shattered country in 2003." Of the film on women in Afghanistan, Wueger writes:

 . . .  follows three women who immediately began to organize to make sure that women’s rights don’t get traded away in the deal. One is a savvy parliamentarian who participated in writing the Afghan constitution that guarantees equality for women; another, a former midwife who is one of the last women’s rights advocates alive in Kandahar; and the third, a young activist who lives in a traditional family in Kabul. Convinced that the Taliban will have demands that jeopardize women’s hard-earned gains, they maneuver against formidable odds to have their voices heard in a peace jirga and high peace council.
I also saw this documentary on women in Lebanon presented by Al Jazeera called Women Warriors. In this piece:
Lebanese Muslim and Christian women reflect on the days when they were fighters and talk about how it has impacted their lives. Through the eyes of women who fought on the frontlines, this film offers a fresh perspective on the Lebanese civil war and a contemporary insight into Lebanon today, the role of women there, and the relationship between women and violence. 
Another film, I Came to Testify, is the story of 16 women who took the witness stand in an international court of law for rape crimes committed as an act of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war in the 1990s. For a fictional account of this heinous act I recommend Angelina's Jolie's recently released, In the Land of Blood and Honey. I think this film is intelligent and gripping. The extraordinary actors work with a script that illuminates the complexities of this terrible war, humanizing but not eliminating the horror. Another film should be of interest to those interested in America's role in Afghanistan. From the five-part series on PBS the documentary, Peace Unveiled:
I've uploaded on this blog a few trailers for these films. I hope this presents a good way to end Women's History Month, looking at the strength and courage of women tested  in a venue traditionally gendered male, sagas of women around the world waging war and peace in times of political and social conflict. 


Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I teach anthropology and I watch a lot of documentaries. Usually, I choose older films for lessons on culture. The film makers presence (except for Chagnon) is felt mainly in the editing, with little music, few voice overs, and limited screen text. In this way the viewer can listen, observe and really see the details of a forest or village - more active than passive participant. I particularly like films that make use of natural sound and allow a scene to unfold without interruption. One of my favorites is a small film, "Runa: Guardians of the Forest" about an indigenous group in Ecuador who, faced with colonization by logging companies and palm oil plantations, form a communa in an effort to claim title of their traditional homes and gardens.The Runa want to preserve their traditional way of life, to live just as their forefathers did, to teach their children forest management just as they were taught.

With the Runa in mind, seen here is an amazing film about the destruction of the rainforest in Indonesia and the loss of habitat for many animals, but mainly the orangutan. Al Jazeera reports how Patrick Rouxel's

". . . extraordinary visual essay, told with no human commentary at all, explores the impact of deforestation and the exploitation of natural resources in Indonesia from the point of view of a dying orangutan called Green. Stunning images of the natural world and its biodiversity are counter-pointed with scenes of their destruction and the resulting cruelty to animals.

The film takes viewers on an emotional journey, following Green's final days and revealing the devastating impact of logging, land-clearing and palm oil plantations."

The inhumanity of humanity. I don't know what else to say. We will let "Green" speak for its self.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

This Woman's History

I loved Woody Allen's, Midnight in Paris, but it was my joy at seeing Gertrude Stein's targeted nurturing of the artists and writers of Paris in the twenties that, as portrayed by Kathy Bates, stole the film.

It is a lovely  coincidence that from February 28 to June 3, 2012,the
Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, and Etta Cone.
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is showing, The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avante-Garde. The exhibit is described as "fragmented and contentious, with flashes of brilliance,"a phrase one could attach to Stein herself, whose writings and bold personality perhaps reflected in words and actions the cubist approach to art.

I am from Baltimore and in my teens regularly visited the collection of Gertrude Stein's friends, Claribel and Etta Cone, at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I would walk a mile from my house to the city bus stop and for a quarter ride uptown from Brooklyn to the Johns Hopkins campus where the museum is located. In the 70s, the entrance was through the grand doors of the original building, with the Cone Collection just to the left, off of the great hall. Stein and her circle of writers and painters figure prominently in this exhibit. I loved the way in which one of the Cone sister's rooms was recreated with what are now paintings worth millions of dollars, all hung side-by-side like family portraits. I can still feel the magic of walking through the gallery filled with Matisse, Picasso and Renoir.

In 1974, I read James R. Mellows, Charmed Circle: Gertrude Stein and Company jealous of their gatherings on the Left Bank at 27, rue de Fleurus, so well depicted in Allen's film. It's a puzzle to me how I learned of these ladies as my post-war row house south of Baltimore had neither art or nor books, but I would definitely count them as early mentors, giving me a unique and independent view to the ways of the world. I admire them for collecting the work of and supporting artists who today are household names, but then were not yet known on the world stage. 

For Women's History Month, I want to acknowledge the role these women, who lived in my hometown, had early on in forming my sensibilities regarding art, travel and literature. They helped me develop a critical eye and to see, I think, that art, or life, need not be popular or classically beautiful, but passionate and honest.