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Resilience in the Face of Adversity

Photo exhibit focuses on 11 women affected by war

Susan Hallett Created: February 12, 2013 Last Updated: February 14, 2013
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Dzidza (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2010). (Nick Danziger/NB Pictures for ICRC)

Dzidza (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2010). (Nick Danziger/NB Pictures for ICRC)

OTTAWA—Nick Danziger’s work is a voice for survivors of war—the dispossessed, those suffering grief and humiliation, as well as those who were tortured.

An exhibition of photos by the award-winning British photographer, author, and documentary film-maker currently showing at the Canadian War Museum is a must-see.

The images comprising Eleven Women Facing War focus on the vulnerability as well as the resilience of women and children who find themselves alone. Their husbands, fathers, or other male protectors have either been killed, were miles away in one of numerous rebel gangs, or were fighting in various civil wars.

Danzinger, who was born in London and brought up in Monaco and Switzerland, was inspired by “Adventures of Tintin,” the comic book series. He started his own travels at age 13, setting off alone for Paris. In 1984, disguised as an itinerant Muslim, he followed the Silk Route from Europe to Asia, journeying through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China.

His best-selling book “Danzinger’s Travels” was published in 1988. It was followed by “Danzinger’s Adventures” in 1993, and then several other books.

“These 11 women speak for the hundreds, if not thousands, and tens of thousands of other women around the world.”

Andrew Burtch, Curator

He has filmed more than 40 documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4, and the Discovery Channel, and won the Prix Italia for best television documentary about children abandoned in a mental asylum in Kabul.

In 2001, while Danzinger was working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, he travelled to Afghanistan, the Balkans, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Sierra Leone, and Colombia to document the stories of 11 women and girls affected by war. His striking images of the women are shown, along with videos, in the War Museum exhibition.

From 2008 to 2011, the photographer tried to find each woman to see how her life had changed. He found all but one, and museum notes tell us how they have fared.

Resilience, that very special quality allowing one who has been knocked down by life’s hardships to come back stronger, is the theme. As Dr. Andrew Burtch, curator of the exhibition said, “These 11 women speak for the hundreds, if not thousands, and tens of thousands of other women around the world.”

One of the lucky ones

Adventurous by nature, the intrepid Danzinger was “off travelling” according to a media representative at the exhibition, so he was not at the opening on Feb. 8. However, Mariatu Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone and one of the women featured in the images, was present and gave a touching speech.

In 1999, when Kamara was 12 years old, rebels captured and tortured her, then chopped off her hands with a machete. Maimed and devastated, she spent three years in a refugee camp, begging on the streets of Freetown to survive.

Mariatu Kamara (Sierra Leone, 2001). (Nick Danziger/NB Pictures for ICRC)

Mariatu Kamara (Sierra Leone, 2001). (Nick Danziger/NB Pictures for ICRC)

Her resilient nature prompted her to join a camp theatre troupe, and with other young amputees, she helped raise awareness of her country’s plight by performing and dancing. Danzinger photographed her in 2001.

“I am one of the lucky ones to be here,” she said, adding, “Being part of this exhibition is life-changing. I am here for all those women.”

Her book, “The Bite of the Mango,” written with the help of Canadian journalist/author Susan McClelland, takes its name from the first food Kamara ate after she was attacked.

Kamara lives in Toronto. She became a social worker so she could help women and children and is now Canada’s UNICEF Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict.

She has a 10-month old daughter whom she named Amira, meaning “Princess.” She said her daughter gives her hope for the future.

Eleven Women Facing War is on view in the Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae Gallery of the Canadian War Museum until April 21.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among many others. E-mail: hallett_susan@hotmail.com

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