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Opposing opinions on Misses and mines
by Britt Sørensen, Bergens Tidende, daily 26.05.07

Under a glittering mirrorball, Morten Traavik lays himself open to blows. 25 international academics are in the process of forming their opinions about “Miss Landmine”.

They are sociologists, political scientists and social workers. They are researching different topics connected to disabilities.

For three days, they have been assembled at the University of Bergen’s invitation. They come from Norway, Great Britain, USA, Sweden and Denmark, and right now their attention is turned towards Angola.

Everyday or party?
The loudspeakers send out soft music. Morten Traavik awaits the reactions. They come quickly.

- Why have you chosen such a clichéd, materialistic and Western form of presentation? The ladies are much more beautiful in their own party clothes? says Johan Sandvik, professor of sociology at Bodø University College.

- That is an assumption, answers Traavik.

- Tiaras, champagne, swimming pools are Western, materialistic symbols, Sandvik maintains.

- Those are signs that we find in very many cultures. Champagne is a symbol of wealth and comfort, and is consciously placed in a context that refrains from the traditional way of depicting Africans, but rather makes the setting partylike and glamorous. Thus, I want to create a contrast between form and content, and an antidote to what we see on TV every day here: that they are poor and to be pitied.

- To really convey that perspective, you should have photographed them in everyday situations. Instead, you present a stereotypical image of women, where you put them in a Western, female pose, says Morten Söder from the Unversity of Uppsala.

- The stereotypical beauty pageant is challenged by bringing in contestants who are different, answers Traavik.

Women, first and foremost
He gets full support from Torunn Arntsen from Oslo. She has researched disabilities in a gender perspective, and thinks the exhibition is beautiful.

- They are posing, but retain an inner sensuality that really strikes you. Traavik is challenging our attitudes towards women with disabilities, and that is fantastic. First and foremost, they come across as women, not as disabled people.

- You don’t find the Miss perspective disturbing?

- I perceive that as humouristic.

Johan Sandvik thinks that the Leprosy Museum is a perfect place for such an exhibition.

- But the music and the mirrorball is a little too much. You could have put more trust in the contrast that the Museum surroundings in themselves provide.

- I think it’s great that the form contrasts with the Leprosy Museum. Do you think the women themselves would enjoy being exhibited here? asks Vibeke Glørstad, sociologist from Molde University College.

Western exploitation?
On a chair by himself sits Stephen Brown, discussing with Sarah Moore. She is from Nottingham, he heads Center for Disability Research in Honolulu. Brown thinks the exhibition gives various and opposing impressions, depending on whether you look at it from a social or cultural angle.

- What strikes me is a certain irony. First, the West exports landmines to Africa. Then we import the victims in the shape of an exhibition like this. Both can be viewed as a form of Western exploitation. But the pictures work very well as portraits on their own terms, as artistic expressions.

- As a white woman I feel a certain discomfort by watching black woman out on show like this, and staged by a white man. But at the same time, these women meet your gaze in a special way. You end up somewhere between discomfort and joy of life. Yes, its multi-faceted. And that’s good, adds Sarah Moore.

The exhibition will be opened at the Leprosy Museum today by the Vice President of the Angolan National Demining Comission.

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