Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Transactivation: Revealing Queer Histories in the Archive

Tomorrow evening, a fantastic event, Transactivation: Revealing Queer Histories in the Archive will be taking place at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. This event will use a mixture of art, historical documents, and discussion to explore the issues of transgender representations in LGBTQ archives and historical records. The event is taking place in collaboration with the three part exhibition Cruising the Archive: Queer Art and Culture in Los Angeles, 1945-1980. This exhibition explores the relationship between artistic practices and LGBTQ histories through artworks, objects, and archival documents culled from the collections at the archive. This exhibition is presented as part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.

Transactivation will present a series of live performances and video projects inspired by the collections at ONE Archive by the artists Heather Cassils, Zackary Drucker, Wu Tsang and Chris Vargas. The artists' multidisciplinary work will examine transgender content and grapple with the issue of the "forgotten" transgender history in archives and historical records. These performance pieces will be followed by a discussion moderated by Dean Spade, Assistant Professor at the Seattle University School of Law.

This event is presented by Visions and Voices: The USC Arts & Humanities Initiative, organized by Onya Hogan-Finlay, David Frantz and Mia Locks, and co-sponsored by LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions).

Date - Thursday, March 1st
Time - 6:00pm - 9:00pm
Place - ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives
           909 West Adams Boulevard
           Los Angeles, CA 90007

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of War and Love: In the Land of Blood and Honey, A Perspective

A good film can create a time warp, where history catches up with us, crashing into our present with its load of metaphors, trauma, and hopes. This is how I felt when viewing Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey. I was invested in the film from the very beginning, not only because it was written, directed, and produced by a well-known celebrity but also because although I am not a native of former Yugoslavia, I was born and raised in the neighboring country of Romania and lived there while the war in Bosnia mercilessly unfolded in the early 1990s.

As CSW research scholar with research interests related to the film’s themes, I was invited to attend the L.A. premiere, which was hosted by CSW and the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. When told that the film concerned the Bosnian war, I became uneasy. For me, this war meant massacres and mass rapes. How was Jolie, who is probably most well-known for playing Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movies, going to deliver on the daunting task of representing such events? A New York Times article, “Behind the Camera, But Still the Star,” from December 7, 2011, did not relieve my unease. I then remembered that Jolie has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since 2001 and received the first Citizen of the World Award from the United Nations Correspondents Association in 2003 and a United Nations Global Humanitarian Action Award in 2009.

When Jolie introduced In the Land of Blood and Honey at the premiere, my earlier associations between her and Lara Croft disappeared and I started to see a strong woman, a filmmaker, even a researcher. As the film started, my heart skipped a beat at the sound of the music, which was composed by Gabriel Yared. It immediately brought me back home to Eastern Europe. I had last visited Yugoslavia in 1988 as a teenager, when the country looked like the Italian seacoast, with young people on Vespas, private shops (a rarity in the Soviet bloc at the time), blue jeans (another rarity), even high fashion, and generally good times. Then it all disappeared in the smoke of ultra-nationalism and war.
In the Land of Blood and Honey is a dual story: one of war and one of love. The macro and micro stories intertwine throughout the movie as the love story becomes the canvas on which the tensions of the war are inscribed. The film’s events concern Ajla (Zana Marjanović),  a Bosnian Muslim, and her lover and captor Danijel (Goran Kostić), a Bosnian Serb, and the son of ruthless General Nebojsa Vukojevich (Rade Šerbedžija). Ajla is a painter; Danijel is an army officer torn between his love for Ajla and his duty to the “Fatherland,” which means fighting for Serbian ethnic purity and the merciless killing of Bosnian Muslims.

Shot in Budapest, Hungary, the film captures the flavor of the region before the war, with its old European architecture, the streets, the blocs, and the museum of art. The dialogue is in Serbian and the cast is made up of actors who are from the former Yugoslavia, including Serbians, Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, and Croatian Serbs. Members of the cast were subject to violence in the war (Vanesa Glodjo, who plays Ajla’s sister), saw their family perish (Alma Terzić, who plays Hana, lost her family in the war), or served in the Bosnian army (Fedja Stukan, who plays Petar, refused to fight and left the army). By bringing together these actors who lived through the war, the film enacts a moment of political and human triumph.

The history is accurate, revealing the major themes and overarching metaphors of the region, recalling Rebecca West’s political anthropology of Yugoslavia before WWII in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and David Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts. The region’s central myths of martyrdom, sainthood, sacrifice, and innocence are revealed in concise declarations, especially those uttered by Vukojevich, who refers to King Stefan Lazar, King of Serbia and the fight against the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Kosovo in the fourteenth century, and by Ajla, cites the role of Bosnian Muslims in opposing the Nazis during World War II.
In addition, Ajla and Danijel’s own love story is exemplary for having crossed ethnic boundaries, which was often the case in the region before the war, in a community where intermarriage and intermingling was not uncommon. In one scene, some soldiers harbor feelings of shame for what they are doing, refusing to shoot, and even recognizing their Muslim neighbors, whom they appreciated before the war (Tarik, played by Boris Ler, was a baker before the war, and his pastries were famous within the community). These moments of deep human introspection reveal the duplicity and the intricate texture of such a war.

Two topics resonate with me after seeing this movie. The first is that mass rape is perhaps a perpetual accompanying tool for destroying the enemy in war. During the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995 (when around 110,000 people were reported killed and 2.2 million displaced), 20,000 to 50,000 women were systematically raped. In consequence of the Bosnian war, rape as a weapon of war was recognized as a war crime by the International Court of Justice, along with ethnic cleansing and genocide.  Confirmation that mass rape accompanies other acts of brutality in war also comes from recent evidence that more than 8,000 women were raped in 2009 in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, according to statistics released by the United Nations Population Fund.[1] Some voices in Holocaust Studies have recently raised the issue of mass rapes having accompanied the Holocaust.[2] Perhaps this is why a representative of the Holocaust Memorial Museum introduced the film at the premiere, as recognition of Bosnian women’s holocaust and as a moment of solidarity in suffering

The second issue is that women all over the world need protection against rape and they need the Rape Shield. The Rape Shield Laws limit the admission of a rape survivor’s sexual history in court, as a means to encourage women to report rape, to be able to stand in court with dignity, and to not be afraid that their past could be used as a weapon to humiliate them. The Rape Shield Laws that do exist protect some women (mainly in the Anglo-American legal systems, with the United States having a pioneer role). We should extend a dialogue to women worldwide, in the hope that one day the Rape Shield will become, like the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a matter of international treaties, not local legislation.

I am glad that I started from a place of unease and skepticism before seeing In the Land of Blood and Honey, because that unease allowed me to evaluate the reality and metaphors of the film from a political and feminist perspective. I can now affirm that I consider Jolie a colleague in feminist research, with this film being a cinematic doctoral dissertation on the anthropology of war written on the bodies of women. That she was able to immerse herself in a different culture up to a point of identification reveals a deep artistic sensibility. Her commitment to depicting the pain of these women shows her to be a profound human being and a speaker for the wronged ones, whose stories might otherwise be buried in history’s infinite memory until the end of time.

--Denise Roman, CSW Research Scholar and the author of Fragmented Identities: Popular Culture, Sex, and Everyday Life in Postcommunist Romania.

[1] “Congo-Kinshasa: More Than 8,000 Women Raped Last Year by Combatants in
Eastern Region–UN,” in, February 8, 2010. Available March 23, 2010, at:
[2] See Jessica Ravitz, “Untold stories of rape during the Holocaust,” CNN. Available December 12, 2011 at:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Delegation from Public Policy Institutes Visits CSW

As part of the “Alliance Building and Best Practices in Resource Mobilization, Research and Advocacy: A Project for Nicaragua,” a delegation of women from three key policy research institutes visited CSW on February 8, 2012. The policy research institutes were Center for Communications Research (Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación – CINCO), Institute for Public Policy and Strategic Studies (Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos y Políticas Públicas – IEEPP), and Center for Constitutional Rights(Centro de Derechos Constitucionales – CDC). The visitors were Elvira Cuadra, Research Coordinator, CINCO; Claudia Garcia Rocha, Research Coordinator, IEEPP; Ninoska Peréz,Executive Director’s Assistant, CINCO; Claudia Pineda Gadea,Executive Director, IEEPP; Amelia Silva Cabrera, member of General Assembly, CDC; and Ada Esperanza Silva Perez, Founder, President and Executive Director of the General Assembly, CDC. They met with Julie Childers, CSW Assistant Director, and Brenda Johnson-Grau, CSW Managing Editor.

The discussion focused on ways the groups could share information and expertise in their mission areas. It was a fruitful discussion and the participants will be in touch about partnership efforts.

Center for Communications Research
The Centro de Investigación de la Comunicación (CINCO) is a civil society organization that specializes in the study of communication, culture, democracy and public opinion, with a special emphasis on the;study of communications media and their social and political role in building democracy. CINCO was founded in 1990, and has operated as a non-profit association since 1995.The focus of CINCO’s research is the role of the media as a key political actor, intermediating between citizens, civil society, and the state. The staff is composed of professionals in communications and the social sciences, television and newspaper journalists, media directors and publicists, brought together in their commitment to social research and developing new communication strategies. CINCO is recognized nationally for its work providing political and social actors with new tools for analysis of the national context and promoting effective citizen participation in defense of freedom of expression and social justice.

Center for Constitutional Rights
Founded in 1990, the Centro de Derechos Constitucionales (CDC) is a civil society organization that promotes the respect of constitutional rights. The mission of CDC is to promote the rule of law and respect for the constitutional rights of the Nicaraguan people. As such, CDC is active in promoting a suitable legal framework for democratic governance and in developing the capacities of citizen and NGO partners to defend, demand, and exercise their constitutional rights. The CDC specializes in promoting women, adolescent and children’s rights, and civic participation through advocating legislation in those areas. The objectives of CDC are to disseminate knowledge of how to effectively exercise citizen and civil society rights, to strengthen the capacity of the organization and leadership of Nicaraguan civil society, and to contribute to the creation, development and defense of democracy in Nicaragua.

Institute for Public Policy and Strategic Studies
Established in 2004, the Instituto de Estudios Estratégicos y Políticas Públicas (IEEPP) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to improving citizen participation in public affairs and providing support for public policies that promote good governance, efficiency and transparency. IEEPP’s primary focus has been upon analysis and monitoring of public policies in security and defense, prevention and control of organized crime, and public administration of social policies. Since 2006, IEEPP has further dedicated its work to the analysis of public sector transparency, strategies for poverty reduction, and responsible management of public budgets. Today, IEEPP is recognized as the leading independent research center in the country, devoted to public policy and budgetary research and analysis. IEEPP participates in important international coalitions for research and analysis at the regional and global level of these phenomena.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nomonde Nyembe and Cherith Sanger are first fellows in UCLA Law–Sonke Health & Human Rights Fellowship Program

The new UCLA Law–Sonke Health & Human Rights Fellowship program was created to train lawyers from top South African law schools for careers in public interest. Nomonde Nyembe and Cherith Sanger, two lawyers from South Africa who came to UCLA this past fall, are the first fellows in the program. The fellowship’s focus on health, HIV prevention, gender equality, and human rights is timely, as in 2007 South Africa had the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, as well as one of the highest levels of domestic violence and rape. Both Nyembe and Sanger are committed to pursuing social change in their home country: upon completing their UCLA degrees, they are required by the program to work with the Sonke Gender Justice Network in South Africa for at least one year.

Nomonde Nyembe
Nyembe received her LL.B. from the University of Witwatersrand in 2007, and completed her articles of clerkship in 2009. She took a clerkship at the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 2010, after which she became a Research and Teaching Associate at the University of Witwatersrand in the Oliver Schreiner School of Law. Her work there included developing her teaching skills and researching constitutional rights issues. Nyembe’s long-term goal is to lecture on human rights and constitutional law at a South African university, specializing in public interest litigation on gender and health.

Cherith Sanger
Sanger brings six years of legal experience to the UCLA fellowship, including work on domestic violence and hate crimes against lesbians and bisexual women. She earned her LL.B. from the University of the Western Cape in 2004. She completed her articles of clerkship in 2006, practicing in litigation and becoming involved in public interest legal work. Sanger joined the Women’s Legal Centre in 2007, specializing in litigation and advocacy for gender-based violence. She has worked with clients in sexual and domestic violence, hate crimes, and unfair discrimination.

As part of the fellowship, UCLA provides a full-tuition grant to enroll in its Law’s Master of Laws program. The Ford Foundation also contributes, covering the fellows’ living and traveling expenses while they are in the program.

--Josh Olejarz, Editorial Associate