Press Articles In English

'Ethical Minefield'
by Lena Lindgren , Morgenbladet, Norway

Who is the most beautiful female landmine victim in Angola?

IWe’ve heard it before, a newly crowned Miss this-or-that chirping away about “religion and politics and stuff ”. But perhaps not quite in this way?
In the end of February, the Norwegian director Morten Traavik will be leaving for Angola to look for candidates for the title of Miss Landmine.
And, as the title implies, only female landmine survivors can participate in Traavik’s beauty pageant.

Traavik has just received half a million kroner in project funding
(80 000 USD) from the Arts Council of Norway and sounds happy on the phone.

- Well yes, many react instinctively just to the juxtaposition of the words “Miss” and “Landmine”, he instantly admits.

Political posing.
Apart from Afghanistan, Angola is the country in the world with the highest density of landmines. After independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975, the country collapsed into 23 years of civil war, and today it has the highest count of landmine victims in the world.

- In addition to it being physically hard to get by without a leg or foot,
women have a socio-cultural disadvantage. To be both a woman and disabled places you automatically last in line, says Traavik.

Traavik is no stranger to gender issues. Some will no doubt remember his performance Sexual healing about male sexuality, presented at Black Box Theatre last year.

– How would you describe the Miss Landmine project?

- As a combined art project and concrete humanitarian initiative.

- Spontaneously, one feels a thousand reservations towards
a project of this sort.

– That’s right, and on an initial level, I can understand that.
Because if there’s anything that’s tainted by “pretend-politics” it’s today’s contemporary art scene. But I do not view “Miss Landmine”
as part of the self-reflexive discourse of contemporary art.
On the contrary, I think that the empty political posing of today’s art scene ought to provoke more than a project of this kind, says Traavik.

Naive Norwegians.
Traavik has visited Angola several times and says that beauty pageants are a well established cultural phenomenon there.

- I believe that only a Western outlook will tend to view this as an art project – down there, a beauty pageant is a beauty pageant.
Although I expect the local people themselves to find a pageant for
landmine survivors a bit awkward. But the reactions to the project is
indeed one of its most interesting aspects.

- So you don’t view the project as part of the current political trend in the arts scene?

- No, I perceive much of the reference-heavy, so-called political art to be sheltering behind an attitude of well-groomed irony that rarely becomes more than a set of internal references.
To be honest, I m really opposed to the whole term “political art”,
more often than not it’s founded on some kind of vanity, a desire to
make yourself important. Naturally I definitely expose myself to those
very same interpretations of my motives for this project, but I believe
there is a difference : This is also a concrete humanitarian initiative,
that aims to have long-term effects in Angola.

– What kind of effects?

- Not so much money as attention. There’s not much focus on the landmine survivors’ situation in Angola, he says, adding that
one shouldn’t allow oneself to be paralysed by fear of appearing

- I can’t free myself from the fact that I’m white and Western,
and I’ll just have to live with the risk of being interpreted in that light.
I think it’s time to rid ourselves of collective Western guilt.
To the extent that I’m going to play a role, I’d most fancy being cast as the naive Norwegian with his rucksack going out to make peace in the world. I don’t mind being him.

Published January 20, 2006

Back to Press