Zimbabwe Government Bans Artist Owen Maseko


Image ©owenmaseko.com

WORKS BY ARTIST OWEN MASEKO, depicting military-led ethnic atrocities in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe in the 1980s, have been banned by the government.

Maseko was first arrested in March for his exhibition at the Bulawayo Art Gallery. Authorities charged him with violating the Criminal Law and Codification Act, which punishes anyone who challenges Robert Mugabe’s authority.

Maseko vows to keep fighting on, telling SW Radio Africa:

“As an artist for the sake of the whole artist community, I have to challenge the ban. There is no way we can function as artists if we can’t be free to express ourselves. The most important thing as an artist is that we need to be relevant to the society we are living in.”

Between 1982 and 1987, soldiers from the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, drawn from Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF, massacred an estimated 20,000 members of the rural Ndebele people, who Mugabe saw as opponents to his rule. Mugabe termed the killings “a moment of madness.”

This video is a BBC news report about the Matabeleland massacre:

Denial of Rights Leads Political Prisoners to Hunger Strike in Chile


Photo: ©Ferran Legaz/Azkintuwe

THIRTY-TWO POLITICAL PRISONERS from the indigenous Mapuche nation in Chile have now been on hunger strike since July 12. They are demanding fair trials and dialogue with authorities who brand the Mapuche as terrorists under a Pinochet-era law.

Argentine sculptor and architect Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his human rights work in Latin America, alluded to the anti-terrorism law in his letter to Chilean President Sebastián Piñera:

“I am surprised that even today, after a period of democracy in our country, there is still a law applied that came about from the time of the military dictatorship…it condemns our Mapuche brothers as if they were subversives when in reality they are simply defending their rights.”

The story of the Mapuche gets very little attention in international media, and local coverage is even less widespread in Chile. On August 23, Mapuche leaders demonstrated at a radio station to protest media silence about the hunger strike.

Recently groups around the world, including London and Vancouver, expressed global solidarity and support with the Mapuche cause.

As Chile approaches the anniversary of its bicentennial on September 18, the conditions of its indigenous population are getting worse. Chile’s actions show a country that metes out democracy and its privileges only to a select few, as it did when it welcomed recently freed Cuban dissidents. Without human rights for the Mapuche in Chile, its celebration of freedom and democracy on September 18 will be a hollow one.


The blog Chile Indígena has a list of all the Mapuche prisoners currently on hunger strike, and the charges against them.

The Mapuche International Link seeks to promote Mapuche interests and highlight issues facing all American indigenous peoples. The site is available in English, French, and Spanish.

Azkintuwe (published in Spanish), is the leading newspaper for news of the Mapuche nation.

Western Sahara: One of the World’s Longest-Running Conflicts

Saharwi human rights activist Djimi Elghalia in the Western Sahara

© Andrew McConnell/Panos

THE SAHARAWI PEOPLE of the Western Sahara are Africa’s last colony, and remain caught in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. The territory was colonized by the Spanish in 1884. Nearly a century later, amid movements for decolonisation, Spain was expected to cede control—instead it allowed the country to be split up between Mauritania and Morocco in exchange for ownership in mining interests.

An independence movement called the Polisario Front subsequently fought a 15-year war with the Mauritanians, which ended in 1979. The war displaced thousands of the Saharawi people into Algerian refugee camps.

A cease-fire in 1991 did nothing to speed up a self-determined referendum, which the Polisario favors, and Morocco opposes. Today, there is growing unrest and some fear a return to armed struggle if diplomatic progress is not made.

This week Human Rights Watch called for the release of three pro-independence activists who have been held for ten months without trial.

The plight of the Saharwi is largely forgotten, and daily life for refugees remains a struggle. UNICEF’s recent report describes the harsh conditions facing refugee children today. While the Saharawi have received some humanitarian aid from the EU, Western policymakers and their corporate interests tell a different story.

For the latest news on the region, visit the Free Western Sahara Network.

Author of the Week: Nuruddin Farah

THE VOICE OF SOMALIA, Nuruddin Farah is one of Africa’s most important writers. He was born in 1945 in Baidoa, a city in Italian-administered Somaliland, but has lived in exile since 1975 and today resides in Cape Town.

Farah is the author of 14 books and plays. His major works are two trilogies published in the 1980s and 90s, Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, and Blood in the Sun. Currently, he is completing a third trilogy.

    Living under a dictatorship

Farah’s first trilogy (1979-1983) is an exploration of life under Mohamed Siad Barre, who seized power in 1969 and ruled until 1991. An individual’s involvement in political activities drives the first book.

Sweet and Sour Milk is the story of two twins, Loyaan and Soyaan. When Soyaan, a journalist, dies mysteriously, Loyaan investigates the murder and discovers his brother’s connections to a clandestine revolutionary group.

The next book in the trilogy, Sardines, shifts to a female protagonist confronting life in a traditional Islamist society and the threat of female circumcision. Farah’s novels often focus on social issues facing African women, giving him the reputation of a male “feminist” writer.

The trilogy concludes with Close Sesame, focusing on a longtime activist who was jailed for his opposition to the British and Italian governments, but who upon his release finds nothing to like about the current Somali regime.

    Blood in the Sun

Farah’s next three novels deal explicitly with Somalia’s war with Ethiopia and subsequent civil war and unrest. In Maps, Askar, orphaned as a child, grows up conflicted about his identity, and must eventually choose between joining the army or continuing his studies.

The trilogy continues in Gifts, a love story and portrait of a woman struggling to balance her career as a nurse while raising three children.

The conclusion to the trilogy, Secrets, also deals with a relationship between two people, but in a different, more demanding form.

In his analysis of the novel, Greg Tate writes, “the notion that sex and greed drive the world is a common enough tenet of European and American fiction, but a significant body of African fiction places more emphasis on the role of the individual in history than the case-history of the individual. The unbashedly bawdy Farah casually flips the script, inverting the usual ratio of social realism to psychosexual analysis.”

Farah’s bold approach challenges expectations of what it means to be an African writer. And that is what good fiction is about. His books are a unique opportunity to delve deeply into the history of Somalia, as it continues to shape and affect contemporary Somali culture and politics.

Artists in Zimbabwe Face Prosecution for Speaking Out

They Made Us Sing © Owen Maseko

THIS PAST MARCH, artist Owen Maseko exhibited his work at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and was swiftly arrested for what authorities claimed was inciting anti-government violence.

His work includes graffiti, 3-D installations and paintings that confront his frustration with a repressive government. Because many of the works in the exhibition were painted directly on the gallery walls, police could not confiscate it and had to cover the windows with newspapers so passerby could not see it.

Maseko was released on bail in April, and is currently awaiting trial on August 18.

In May he participated in yet another exhibit called “Truth Telling: The Truth Will Set You Free.” On his website, he’s outspoken and resolved, writing, “Being an artist is about being brave and using art to challenge attitudes. People in Zimbabwe are waiting for change, but we as Zimbabweans are the change.”

Read more about how the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association’s (ZimRights) succeeded in showing banned works this past week.

Chile: A Short Guide to Indigenous Mapuche Poets

The Mapuche nation flag.

THE MAPUCHE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE of southern Chile represent the largest ethnic group in the country. Today, despite the introduction of the Indigenous Law in 1993, <a href="Mapuche lands remain vulnerable to development.

Contemporary poets compose in their native Mapudungun and Spanish. Here is a sample of two of the leading Mapuche poets writing today, Graciela Huinao and Jaime Luis Huenón:

    Graciela Huinao

in the blue nights of the South
the agonizing vegetable song
of the Nawel buta
reaches my door.
I don’t know if it is
when he shakes his branches
in protest
because they have torn out his eyes
or in the moment
in which he bleeds empty the rivers
because of the cutting
of his arms.
My soul breaks
in an anguished song of Pewen (2)
and ancient voices
reach my door
but only I
understand their language
that cold with fear
glides through the jungle
to die in it.
While in my eyes
the last stars

(1) (Big tiger). Mountain chain near Temuco.
(2) The Araucaria tree.

    Jaime Luis Huenón

I got off in the fog of Port Trakl,
searching for the Bar of Good Fortune
to chat about my trip.
But everyone was mesmerized by the polar stars in their drinks,
silent like the sea off a desert island.
I went out to roam the red-lit streets.
Perfumed and bored women, selling their tired bodies.
«In Port Trakl poets come to die», they said,
smiling in all the languages of the world.
I gave them poems I planned to take to my grave
as proof of my time on Earth.

Translation by Daniel Borzutzky

Four Mapuche Poets: An Anthology collects the work of Huinao, Huenón, Elicura Chihuailaf, and Leonel Lienlaf.

Where are today’s anti-war novels?

Image: French Troops Resting © Estate of Christopher Nevinson/The Bridgeman Art Library

IN THE ANTI-WAR BOOK THREE GUINEAS Virginia Woolf writes, “You must educate the young to hate war. You must teach them to feel the inhumanity, the beastliness, the insupportability of war.”

Woolf was a pacifist and her novels are filled with anti-war feeling. The devastating effects of the first World War, the greatest conflict of her generation, are everywhere: Andrew Ramsey dies in WWI in To The Lighthouse; in Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf explicitly deals with the relationship between civilians and veterans through the story of Septimus Smith and Clarissa. And in Jacob’s Room, the whole of the narrative is the story of one young man’s life who dies in the war.

The English language anti-war syllabus is of course chockful of books by men, including Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Heller’s Catch-22, and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

These novels were released in, respectively, 1929, 1961, and 1969.

So where are today’s anti-war novels?

Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy, beginning with Regeneration and concluding with the Booker Prize-winning The Ghost Road is a poetic, incisive exploration of the effects of WW I. There are the aforementioned titles by Woolf. And there are scattered titles dealing with Eastern Europe.

It’s clear the two major wars continue to inspire writers. But where are the novels dealing with current armed conflicts like Iraq or Afghanistan? Are writers simply not writing them, or are publishers not putting them out?

The focus to nonfiction is behind the shift, Geoff Dyer says in his piece for The Guardian, ““The human heart of the matter”:

Reportage, long-form reporting – call it what you will – has left the novel looking superfluous. The fiction lobby might respond: it’s too soon to tell. A decade of literary silence followed the armistice of 1918. It wasn’t until 1929 that a novel appeared that made imaginative sense of the first world war.

If that timeline is to be followed, next February marks the twentieth anniversary of the “official end” of the Gulf War, which means we’re long overdue for a novel dealing with the events in Kuwait.

Dyer argues that readers can find novelistic control of tone, phrasing and the “moral resolution of fiction” in current war-themed books like Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City and Dexter Filkins’s The Forever War.

No matter how well-written these real-life experiences are, they remain nonfiction, an extended riff on the in-depth news piece. If all that readers are getting is the visceral experience of the grunt’s wartime experience or the author’s embedded observations, we’re still missing the depth of a novel. A subject as big as war needs an approach like Heller’s and Vonnegut’s satire or a political polemic in the style of Woolf’s novel-essays.

And there’s need for one than one point-of-view. War is still a man’s pursuit, one that despite all his protestations about peace, he clearly relishes. And then he crafts stories around his male-generated, male-run wars.

Is there a different kind of war book yet to be written, about the Gulf War, or Afghanistan or Iraq, which becomes part of the high school syllabus for tomorrow’s students?

What’s needed is a story that transcends gender and politics, whether written by male or female. Woolf touches on this when she writes, “In fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” For a novelist writing about war, the whole world must be his country.

Srebrenica: Why All Victims of Genocide Must Not Be Forgotten

A MEMORIAL OF 16,677 SHOES, each pair representing the 8,372 victims of the Srebrenica massacre, were placed in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin today. The “Pillar of Shame” is the work of German activist Philip Ruch, whose monument points the finger directly at the U.N. and holds that body responsible for the killings.

In July 1995, a so-called “safe zone” controlled by U.N. peacekeepers came under attack by Bosnian Serbs, who then executed approximately 8000 Bosnian Muslim men. It is the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

In an interview, Ruch says,

Looking at Srebrenica, it becomes legally clear that the UN as an international actor stands above the law. It is legally untouchable. Its representatives can do whatever they want. It is the perfect cloak.

Ruch’s statement is warranted: in a 1999 report, then-Secretary General Kofi Annan admitted the U.N. failed, making errors in judgment and “an inability to recognize the scope of the evil confronting us.”

There’s a larger lesson, and it is this: we, as individuals, must not remain passive. It is necessary to built individual and political will that in future will prevent events like the massacre at Srebrenica, Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda from happening in the first place.

What can be done to prevent further genocide? It’s not enough to stand by and say “that shouldn’t have happened” as anniversaries pass and families bury their dead and wait for justice. We must broaden our awareness, accept responsibility, and take action.

Learn more from these groups working to end genocide:

Stop Genocide Now
Genocide Intervention

How Dance Is Still A Weapon for Social Change

From the earliest days of her career, Martha Graham directed social and political observation into the creation of a radically new philosophy of movement and dance. Her dances were revolutionary on every level. In their review of her company’s latest program, “Political Dance Project,” which presents politically-themed dances by Graham and other choreographers, The Washington Post says:

“Few choreographers today put politics onstage. In this post-postmodern era, the field has shied away from the provocations of the AIDS works of the 1980s and early 1990s, which was perhaps the last time dance wrapped itself around an issue. Individual dancemakers may take on topical subjects, as Doug Varone did in “Alchemy,” inspired by the Daniel Pearl beheading, or as Paul Taylor’s “Banquet of Vultures” crucified George W. Bush. But such works are rare in an art form that, broadly speaking, has settled comfortably into self-consciousness. Dance is mostly about dancing.”

This is certainly true. But why has dance abandoned its role as an artistic agitator? There’s no doubt that the performing arts, dance and theater, are no longer the vanguard of everyday thought. They have fallen victim to the way people view art vs. entertainment.

Popular, i.e., the “dominant” culture is a rapacious machine that pretends to entertain when in fact what it does is eat away at artistic expression. It overwhelms those who would try to bring any message to larger audiences. This is especially true for dance.

Viewers are more interested in watching the spectacle of Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance than the pieces of Martha Graham or Jane Dudley.

On some level it is fun to watch Chad Ochocinco shake it. But we have to go further and push harder as artists and as a community supporting artists. Whether through modern dance, ballet, or hip hop, the human body is the perfect instrument to make a statement about what it’s like to be alive, and to die, or what it feels like to be poor, or to fight in a war. Don’t we owe it to these artists to pay attention to their work?

Supporters mark birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi

image credit: theelders.org

As a tribute to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an empty chair is kept open at each meeting of The Elders. Today marks her 65th birthday, and it is also the 15th year the Nobel Laureate has spent in detention. After nearly a decade under house arrest, much more must be done to secure her release, as well as the unconditional release of over 2,000 political prisoners.

Read more about Burma’s first planned national elections since 1990 from a human rights perspective.