Photos of courage: exhibit kicks off landmine discussions today

Canadian photographer V. Tony Hauser’s first reaction when he meets people who suffer from seemingly overwhelming adversity is a sense of helpless. In his artist’s statement for his new photographic exhibition, Living with Landmines, Hauser describes his sense of frustration. "I feel helpless because I’m not a medicine man or a priest, capable of mending a body or saving a soul. I’m a photographer. All I do is observe the worlds around me, and most often I seek to find beauty in everything at which I point my camera."

Such was the case when Hauser travelled to India and Cambodia to document how people cope with HIV/AIDS. While in Cambodia, he visited the Aki Ra Landmines Museum in Siem Reap. There he encountered children who are survivors of landmines, living in a residence associated with the museum. Moved by the courage shown by the children, Hauser returned in May 2006 to photograph them. The result is Living with Landmines, 16 life-sized portraits of the children of Aki Ra.

It has been a decade since almost two-thirds of the world’s nations came to Canada to sign The Ottawa Convention, a treaty to stop the manufacture and use of landmines. While nations such as Cambodia have been at peace, the threat of landmines still exists, hidden in the landscape. Hauser’s exhibit will begin the eastern section of its cross-Canada tour with a special showing at York today in the Vari Hall Rotunda. It will change locations and be on display the remainder of the week, Sept. 18-21, in the Scott Library Reading Room.

Right: "TOL". Tol lost his leg when he and his friends picked up a pineapple mine. It exploded, killing three of the friends instantly. A girl nearby lost her arm. Tol was the first landmine survivor to live with Aki Ra’s family at the Landmines Museum, where he helps with the daily chores. Tol attends the Khmer school in Siem Reap. He is a talented muscian and hopes to study medicine.

Sponsored by the York Centre for International & Security Studies (YCISS), the exhibit opening will be followed by a panel discussion that will examine the Ottawa Convention. Titled, "The Ottawa Convention: Reflections on Ten Years of Mine Action", YCISS has invited two landmines experts to present on the landmines ban.

  • Leon (Lee) Sigal is director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the SSRC in New York, and has also served in the US State Department. He recently published Negotiating Minefields: The Landmines Ban in American Politics and will speak on that theme at the seminar.
  • Robert (Bob) Lawson is senior policy adviser, Human Security Policy Division, at the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade in Ottawa. He was a member of the Canadian team negotiating the Ottawa Convention, and then spent several years in the office of the Landmines Ambassador working on its implementation and universalisation. Lawson also co-edited To Walk Without Fear: The Global Movement to Ban Landmines. He will reflect on those experiences at the seminar.

The seminar will take place from 2:30 to 4:30pm today, in 280 York Lanes and is open to the community. For more information on the exhibit and seminar, visit the YCISS Web site.

Photograph courtesy of the photographer, V. Tony Hauser.