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True beauty comes from within – it is true!
A beauty pageant for one-legged women will,
in more than one sense, be about keeping one’s balance.

by Tommy Olsson / Morgenbladet, (”The Morning Post”) weekly, 01.06.07

There are certain artist-instigated projects out there that in full earnestness aim to gravitate towards something else. Projects that totally ignore the art context, because they aim for something bigger, both claiming and getting more attention than what can be considered usual. Henrik Placht’s work to establish the Art Academy in Ramallah is one of these. Morten Traavik’s beauty pageant for landmine victims is another. Honourable initiatives, for which I can’t feel anything other than boundless respect. As I am writing these lines, someone are surely quarrelling about Miss Landmine on some blog somewhere, but I ‘d rather steer away from the ethical debate here, as it is anyway just a question of differing definitions and opinions. In short : for some, repression of women will manifest itself so to speak in any context including or excluding a woman. And for some, it is a pressing matter to argue with these people. Not for me.

Balance. A work like this might very easily have stumbled; a beauty pageant for one-legged women will, in more than one sense, be about keeping one’s balance; things could very easily have slipped into marginal amputation fetishism in a speculative wrapping. As it stands now, the project really transcends all of it’s points of reference, turning the logic of beauty pageants upside-down; for these ladies of Angola are, each and every one, marvellously beautiful. And one sees in their expressions that they do feel beautiful, and that the context that has been so controversial to some, most of all should be viewed as a celebration of that fact.

For somewhere here, it’s all about basics; the tiara, the evening dress and all the other stash that goes with a beauty pageant are in this context actually only about what they are; beautifying special effects. The real material, if we are to keep this for a little while within the art paradigm, is the beauty pageant as form, which is here exploited so cleverly that this event becomes a crossfire of critical comments in very many directions, without ever losing focus; at the end of the day this is about the right to feel beautiful, while simultaneously turning our attention to the fact that there are rather many landmines buried in various places around the world. In both cases, the work hits the spot.

The problematics behind. That this event is taking place in one of my favourite Bergen hangouts, the Museum of Leprosy, adds another dimension. A dimension that leads to reflections about the history of mankind that I’m not capable of really clarifying, and probably never will be. And all the same, something in me is trying to evaluate the pictures on the basis of strictly aesthetical parameters, but that very quickly becomes impossible; the issues are lurking in the background of every single photograph. When trying, I never get further than to aknowledging that the pictures are very good. Pictures from a beauty pageant with its edge turned inwards on its own form, and outwards on us.
A reminder that we are situated far from Angola, for the time being.

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