Monday, October 30, 2006
Photo: Strange Fruit, 2002
17.25" x 11.75" Letterpress, polymer relief, and hand-colouring on handmade paper. Edition 23.
Artist statement: This first Cambodian landmine print was created following my research visit there in January 2002, and is printed on paper made from clothing of mine victims I met there, bamboo fibre from minefields and currency of nations whose mines and ordnance are found in Cambodia. It shows a variety of tropical fruits and a life-size image of a Chinese Type 72 landmine. Photo courtesy of the artist.
For centuries, artists have not only given the world beautiful objects to admire, but have they provided insightful social commentary about the times in which they live.
John Risseeuw continues in that tradition. The art professor at Arizona State University has created a wide body of work designed to get people to think.
“I’ve done art about political and social themes for over thirty years,” said Mr. Risseeuw. “In 1976, I did an art piece about the world arms trade. It’s printed on paper made from the recycled currencies of the top ten arms exporting nations mixed with clothing of victims of armed conflict. The power of the paper in this print and its effect on people became the basis for the landmine series, which I began in 2000,” he added.
Beginning Nov. 2, Mr. Risseeuw’s The Paper Landmine Print Project will be on display (until Nov. 25) at the Open Studio in downtown Toronto.
What can Canadians look forward to?
“The twin purposes of this project have been public education to the problems of landmines and fundraising for the organizations that assist victims,” said Mr. Risseeuw. "Since the U.S. has not signed the Ottawa Convention (banning anti-personnel landmines), I also hope that I can assure the public that many Americans care deeply about these problems and do not support our administrations’ (both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) recalcitrance on military matters,” Mr. Risseeuw said.
For the last five years, Mr. Risseeuw has travelled to landmine-affected countries to meet landmine survivors, deminers and NGOs working in mine action. These travels have had a great impact on him as an artist.
“It has deepened my understanding of the problem and humanized it,” said Mr. Risseeuw. “By interviewing victims, deminers, and aid workers, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for both the personal and the global effects of wars and conflicts. Travel has made the world smaller and reinforced the connectedness of all inhabitants of the planet. I think these experiences have given my art more authenticity and when knowledge of the background of its making is communicated to viewers, they are more deeply moved by it,” he said.
The art itself is quite unique in its design and construction.
“It involves making handmade paper and printing landmine images, facts, and stories of survivors and victims on it,” said Mr. Risseeuw. “In hand papermaking, we can make paper from used cotton, linen, or silk clothing, as well as plant fibres and other sources of cellulose. I have collected articles of clothing from landmine victims (this means only a representative piece of clothing — not from the accident itself), fibrous plants from mine locations, and the currencies of nations that make or have made landmines. All of this is pulped and made into the paper for my art.”
Mr. Risseeuw has exhibited his landmine series around the world and enjoys the response the public has given it.
“It is the type of art that stays with a person long after they’ve seen it and the emotional and intellectual processes of absorbing it, and perhaps acting on it, take awhile. It’s definitely not intended to elicit the same kind of response as a beautiful landscape or portrait, or even a soup can.”
He is aware the landmine issue is no longer front-page news and that concerns him, given the gravity of the situation.
“I guess it takes someone like me to hold one idea for a bit longer and push it in front of people where they don’t expect it in order to get some small quiver of movement,” he said.
Mr. Risseeuw will be at the opening of the exhibition on Nov. 2.
Proceeds from print sales will go to a number of NGOs involved in mine action.
For more information, call Open Studio in Toronto at 416-504-8238.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Think the global landmine problem is over? Think again.
Photo: A worn-out prosthetic used by a Cambodian landmine survivor.
On Oct. 5, 1996, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy stood before an international audience of diplomats, NGO activists, government officials and landmine survivors at a conference in Ottawa and challenged them to return to Canada by the end of 1997 and sign a comprehensive landmine treaty.
The reaction was a mixture of shock, applause and disbelief, but nonetheless, Mr. Axworthy’s challenge to the world resulted in what is known as the Mine Ban Treaty.
Fast-forward 10 years and according to the recently released 2006 Landmine Monitor, the world is significantly better off as a result of the treaty than it was in pre-treaty days.
“The treaty has done what it was intended to do,” said Mr. Axworthy, in a telephone interview from Winnipeg, where he is currently serving as the president of the University of Winnipeg.
“It has substantially reduced the number of fatalities; it has virtually stopped the export of landmines and it even has had a very strong effect on the behaviour of those countries that have not signed the treaty.”
Currently, 151 State Parties have signed the treaty. Forty countries have not signed.
According to Landmine Monitor, more than 740 square kilometres were demined in 2005 – much of which has been turned back over to farmers for food production. Over 470,000 landmines and 3.75 million explosive devices were destroyed last year. Mine risk education reached 6.4 million people in 60 countries.
So much for the good news.
Dig a little deeper into the massive report and a couple of shocking facts stand out. Mine action funding was down almost $26 million (all figures in Canadian dollars) in 2005 while reported landmine casualties rose by 11 per cent – with civilians making up more than 80 per cent of those casualties.
If funding goes down and casualties go up, it can only mean one thing – bad news for landmine survivors.
“We know that last year at least 7,300 people became mine casualties – probably there were many more whose deaths or injuries were unrecorded in remote parts of the world,” said Ian Doucet, a Landmine Monitor editor, in a press release. “And all those who survived the mine explosion add to the estimated 400,000 mine survivors in the world today who need long-term care and assistance – and need much more assistance than they have been getting,” said Mr. Doucet.
“The vast majority of people who are being victimized by landmines don’t have any choice but to go out to fields to try to open them up to grow crops because they have no other way to make money,” said Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, a Landmine Monitor editor, in a telephone interview from Vancouver.
“They have no other choice but to walk to another village to get something because they don’t have enough money to pay for bus fare.”
It is not as if there is no money available to help landmine survivors – it is just directed elsewhere. According to a new study by the Control Arms Campaign, worldwide military spending will top $1 trillion by the end of 2006.
Has the campaign to rid the world of landmines run out of steam?
“I am concerned that some of the countries that did provide leadership - like our own - are beginning to lose interest and lose commitment in terms of continuing to provide resources,” said Mr. Axworthy.
In 1997, while Mr. Axworthy was foreign minister, the Canadian Landmine Fund was established with a budget of $100 million to advance the global implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty and provide direct assistance to mine-affected communities in every region of the world.
In 2003, the fund was renewed for an additional five years and $72 million was allocated to it. So far, there has been no word from the new Conservative government that it will be renewed.
“It’s time to issue another challenge,” said Mr. Axworthy. “Canadians should apply pressure and lobby their MPs to get the Canadian Landmine Fund renewed,” he added.
According to a spokesperson at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA): “Canadian contributions (to mine action) have remained steady at approximately $28-29 million over the past three years. Canadian contributions are programmed to remain at that level for the foreseeable future. The estimated forecast for the current fiscal year is $31.3 million.”
The world, however, is in a different mindset than it was 10 years ago. The terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 changed everything.
“I think that since 911 the priorities have shifted to border issues and anti-terrorism combat and not into protecting human security issues which, frankly, is where Canada excelled in being able to influence other countries. I think we have lost our way,” said Mr. Axworthy.
Lack of leadership and lack of funding may impact greatly on the credibility of the Mine Ban Treaty. According to Article 5, State Parties agree to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel landmines no later than 10 years after the entry into force of the treaty. Yet, right now, at least 13 of the 29 State Parties with 2009 or 2010 deadlines are not on course to be mine-free. Without the diplomatic push (and money to back it up) it seems unlikely these developing countries will be able to meet their commitments.
Does the treaty need to be reopened?
“One of the areas I think needs to be looked at in terms of renewing or updating the treaty would be to put an even stronger sense of responsibility on non-governmental actors, such as warlords, rebel groups and so on,” said Mr. Axworthy. “It should be a crime for them to use landmines and they should be held accountable for it. We should also be looking at related weapons like cluster bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”
Despite the reduced funding and reduced attention (by both governments and media) NGOs and other advocates continue their work in the hope that everyone will someday be able to walk across the street without fear of losing a limb.
“I believe we are going to achieve this (living in a mine-free world) and I think it is one of the greatest gifts of hope we are going to be able to give to the next generation,” said Mr. Moser-Puangsuwan.