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[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog.]

I’m moderating a free panel in the NYC PEN World Voices Festival at 6pm on Thursday 30th April – “Quiet Revolutions in Storytelling” – at which we’re going to be discussing new media, storytelling and human rights.  We have three fascinating panellists, and I wanted to introduce you to their work, and to give you an opportunity to pose them your questions (you can submit your questions via the comment field below, or via Twitter to @witnessorg)…

First up, someone you might already have come across online – Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal.  He’s best known for his participatory art piece Domestic Tension (or, as he wanted to call it, Shoot An Iraqi).  Wafaa conceived the piece in the wake of the death of his brother Haji, killed during attacks by US forces in Iraq.  For the piece, Wafaa lived for a month in the FlatFile Galleries in Chicago, under fire from a paintball gun controlled by internet users. Aside from the global interest and controversy that this piece generated, it poses difficult questions about the technology of war and of participation, about gaming and consequences, and about the nature of solidarity in the age of the internet.  Wafaa kept a video diary throughout the month-long project – here’s the entry from day 1:

You can watch the rest of Wafaa’s video diaries from the installation on his YouTube channel, see him talk about the project, and read about his latest exhibition (or if you are in Israel, go and see it before it ends this weekend.)

The second panellist is French graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert.  Emmanuel’s most recent work is The Photographer, a collaboration with his childhood friend, photographer Didier Lefèvre, about a mission LeFevre undertook in 1986 to photograph the work of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Afghanistan.  There’s an interview with Emmanuel, along with some of the pages from The Photographer, at Newsarama, and more images and background here.  I’ve written before about graphic novels as a uniquely powerful medium for documenting and discussing human rights issues – and I think Emmanuel is going to have some really interesting perspectives on the differences between film, photography and graphic novels.  Another recently-translated work of Emmanuel’s is the biography of US soldier Alan Cope, Alan’s War.  Here’s a succinct and astonishing insight into how he created the artwork for that book:

Our friends over at the VII Photo Gallery in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, NY, are hosting an exhibition of LeFevre’s photographs together with Emmanuel’s pages from The Photographer (here’s the publisher’s view of the opening night of the exhibit).

The final panelist is Catalan professor of philosophy Josep-Maria Terricabras.  You can’t be a Catalan professor of philosophy and not have thought about human rights, and I’m looking forward to the professor’s reflections on new media and whether it really can foster social revolutions…  Here’s one for the language aficionados among you – Professor Terricabras speaking (in Catalan) about power and participation:

That’s it – remember to add your questions by adding a comment below or tweeting it to @witnessorg

(Unfortunately Kathrin Roeggla, the excellent Austrian playwright who had been due to participate, can no longer make it to NYC.)

[Originally published here on the WITNESS Hub blog.]

The information war being fought over Gaza is one of the most commented-on aspects of the current crisis – Israeli military footageTwitter updates, Facebook groups, media interviews, blogs, the use of megaphone software like GIYUS.  It’s not a new phenomenon, but the extent to which Israel’s government has made bypassing, controlling and marginalising the media, and using YouTube and other platforms to disseminate core messages a central part of its information strategies is unprecedented.

On the Palestinian side, it seems to be happening in a more decentralised way: emailed photographs of injured or dead children, video documentation and interviews from within Gaza and from solidarity events around the world, but not on the scale or coordinated nature of Israel’s media strategy, as discussed in this Al Jazeera interview with Dan Gillerman, about Israel’s media strategy:

Both sides, of course, are provoking comment over errors and misinformation based on visual material.  But this, and the exceptional level of message control and coordination, serve to saturate new media as well as news media with polarising talking points – and takes us further and further from the daily reality of life on either side.  The work of organisations like B’Tselem to document daily, mundane, individual human rights abuses, and to ensure that these reach the sphere of public debate in Israel and internationally is a crucial part of this – here’s Oren Yakobovich on their Shooting Back project in Hebron.

But as we discovered in our recent UDHR60 project, images that open our eyes to human rights don’t have to be videos or photographs.  For me personally, some of the most striking, intimate and revealing images of the daily routine of human rights abuses faced by Palestinians are not of graphic human rights abuses, or of military successes – they come from a comic by Maltese-American journalist, Joe Sacco (whose latest book, Footnotes on Gaza, is due out imminently).

I felt the American media had really misportrayed the situation [between Israel and the Palestinians] and I was really shocked by that.

I grew up thinking of Palestinians as terrorists, and it took a lot of time, and reading the right things, to understand the power dynamic in the Middle East was not what I had thought it was…
[…]

There are two ways in which Palestinians are portrayed – as terrorist and as victim.  There may be truth in certain situations for both descriptions, but Palestinians are also people going to school, who have families, have lives, invite you into their home, and think about their food.

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