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Miss Landmine wins a leg prothesis
Aid agencies call the crowning of Angola’s loveliest landmine victim “sexist” and “a freakshow”. The Norwegian artist behind the projects wants to “move and provoke”.
By Heidi Robdrup
The eyes are sensually closed, the white dress embraces brown skin, and the full lips are curled in a playful smile.
Miss Cuando Cubango is one of the 10 Angolan women hoping for enough votes to win one of the world’s most controversial beauty pageants. The 30-year old has, like her competitors, had a leg blown off in a landmine accident, and the first prize is a leg prothesis from Norway’s leading orthopaedic clinic.
International aid agencies call Norwegian artist Morten Traavik’s project “a freakshow”and have refrained from supporting it. He, however, finds that sort of criticism totally misplaced.
- Labelling the project ”a freakshow” reveals a rather peculiar attitude towards the very people one is presumably working to aid, says Morten Traavik , who has even experienced [the project] being rejected for being “sexist and misogynistic”.
- There are many old-school feminists of both sexes in leading positions of many aid agencies. Hearing the word “beauty pageant” they are time-warped back to the Seventies and the dialogue stops there, the Norwegian artist believes.
Beauty in the shadow of war
The idea of “Miss Landmine 2007” was born of incidents. In 2003, Morten Traavik went to Angola to visit the father of his then-girlfriend.
- The civil war had just ended, and you could feel that very strongly in everyday life. There was still a sense of a state of emergency, and as a visitor your movements were very restricted by the presence of landmines, says Traavik.
At the same time, he experienced a jouyful and buoyant attitude to life that expressed itself in, among other things, numerous and colourful beauty pageants that all over the country serve as pretext for celebrations. He was then asked to be a jury member in a pageant being staged in the backstreet behind the father’s house.
- Those were two of the strongest impressions I brought home from Angola. A tragic and troubling reality, but also a great and profound joy of life. I found that contrast very inspiring, says Morten Traavik.
»Suddenly, you are blown up«
Only upon returning home did he conceive the idea of the controversial beauty pageant. Under the motto “Everybody has the right to be beautiful”, he started seeking funding for the project. But he was turned down by the big aid organisations. Again and again. Only when Angola’s own government decided to support the pageant, things started moving faster.
- I’d like the project to both move and provoke people. But if at any point I had perceived that Angolan society, and first and foremost the women themselves, didn’t appreciate Miss Landmine, I would of course never had gone through with it, underlines Morten Traavik.
- The beauty pageant is a means of raising awareness about landmines, which I find to be one of the most terrifying weapons imaginable. You walk across a field, and suddenly you are blown up. Anywhere, anytime.
Dolled up in Luanda
In Angola disabled women are often isolated and looked down upon. Therefore, many of the women initially didn’t believe Morten Traavik, as he travelled around the country to sign up candidates for the pageant.
- It was almost too good to be true that they were to do a fun assignment and be seen and heard. They received a fee of 200 USD per working day, free travel and accommodation, and got to keep the dresses, says Traavik, adding that there was a lot of laughter on the set.
- I think it was a bit like winning in the grand lottery, to get to travel, be dolled up and catered for.
The world’s most beautiful landmine victim In November the winner of Miss Landmine 2007 will be crowned in Angola, and Morten Traavik is hoping to persuade some of the critical aid agencies to be members of the jury.
The candidates have already gained something by participating. They are now being met with more appreciation, respect and some have been offered work in landmine awareness programs, says the Norwegian artist.
He is hoping to stage a locally adapted version in Cambodia, and in the long term he dreams of a worldwide Miss Landmine pageant. Perhaps in 2015.
Facts about Miss Landmine:
* Four decades of war has made Angola one of the world’s most landmine-affetcted countries. More than 2.2 million people are affected by the landmines.
* Norwegian artist Morten Traavik puts focus on the problem through the crowning of Miss Landmine 2007, which will take place in Angola in November.
* On the project homepage http://www.miss-landmine.org
one can vote for one’s favourite candidate to win a leg prothesis from Norway.