A Review of Nick Danziger's Photography Exhibition Eleven Women Facing War, London
“We often talk about the victims of war. I hope these images and stories are a tribute to these women’s indomitable spirit, endurance and bravery.” Nick Danziger
Photojournalist Nick Danziger’s current exhibition Eleven Women Facing War at the Imperial War Museum, London is a testimony to their shared commitment to telling the stories of contemporary women affected by war and conflict. As described by the museum's Research Curator of Photography Hilary Robert, “Eleven Women facing War is a moving reflection on women’s experience of war and its legacy.” As a respected photojournalist, Danziger has spent the last 25 years visiting the world’s poorest and most desecrated areas, using his lens to give a voice to those people forgotten by the global media. His dedication to raising awareness about the realities of modern conflict has won him a series of awards such as the Prix Italia for Best Television Documentary in 1991 for his film War, Lives and Videotape.
In 2001, Danziger was commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross to photograph women in severe conflict zones; Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, Hebron (West Bank), Sierra Leone, Columbia and Afghanistan, as part of a project to identify and target their needs. In order to illustrate the long-lasting impact of war, Danziger has revisited each journey ten years later to see if and how the women’s situations have progressed. At the Imperial War Museum, the audience is presented with thirty-three photographs and eleven short films documenting his discoveries and exposing both his subject’s physical and emotional scars.
Many of Danziger’s subjects rely solely on hope and faith to manage their emotionally and physically disabling situations. However, in stories like Mariatu’s we also see the improvements that charitable actions can make on a life overturned by conflict. At thirteen years old, Mariatu’s hands were forcibly amputated by the Revolutionary United Front during the Civil War in Sierra Leone. The inhumane act was frequently used to prevent thousands from voting in government elections.
Thankfully, Mariatu survived the violence and was moved to the Aberdeen Road Amputee Camp at Freetown where she first met Danziger. Thanks to UNICEF sponsorship, Mariatu was able to emigrate to Canada where she now works as a social worker. She continues to promote the rights of women and children in conflict zones and has published an award-winning book The Bite of the Mango about her life. Although she will forever carry the scars of the Civil War, Mariatu and her story are proof that with hope and help it is possible to overcome the atrocities of conflict.
In Stylist (Issue 311) magazine, a recent article praises the new focus on women as survivors, not just victims of conflict. Their article Women Making Waves covered the story of a female activist, journalist and radio presenter Hassan from Northern Afghanistan. She had fled from her hometown due to the terrorist attack and death threats that she received as a female activist, but returned six months later as an act of defiance. She had been awarded a £6,400 grant by the UN development programme to rebuild her radio station, which had been burnt down during the insurgent’s attack that forced her to flee. She continues to promote women’s rights through her radio show and by doing so proves she will not be hindered by acts of terrorism.
The lives captured in this exhibition bear witness to the realities that contemporary women face in war and conflict. When Danziger first met Mahi Bibi in Ghor Province, Afghanistan she was just ten years old and her younger brothers were only five and seven. They were living as orphans, because their mother had died and their father had deserted them. As a result of being abandoned by their remaining family and the threat of insurgents taking over the village, the children were forced to flee Afghanistan. As a minor, Mahi Bibi was unable to receive food aid and resorted to begging and scavenging. Food was scarce and so grass and sand were often their only sources of nutrition. Like many children in areas of conflict, Mahi Bibi was forced into womanhood prematurely. Despite his efforts, Danziger was unable to trace Mahi Bibi and her brothers ten years on. The chilling realities of war, poverty and total destitution have lead to the conclusion that Mahi Bibi sadly died in 2006. One of her brothers also died and the whereabouts of the other is unknown.
Across the Eleven Women Facing War exhibition, Danziger has used photography and filmmaking to form visual vocabularies for those women. Through each film and image, he gives his subjects the opportunity to tell their stories exactly as they would wish them to be heard. Those stories are testament to not only their personal strength, but that of all other women faced with the realities of war. Most importantly, the photographs enable stories like Mahi Bibi’s to live on and never be forgotten.
IWM London, Lambeth Road, London, SE1 GHZ - Open 10-6pm every day until 24th April 2016
Written by Lara Monro, photography contributor to Arteviste.com