unintended consequences

On Culture its Consequences

From an interview with Molly Crabapple:

“Art can change the world, but seldom in the way it intends, and seldom the art that people think would have that effect.

I keep thinking of the Guy Fawkes mask Dave Gibbons drew. In discussions of what art is radical, mainstream comics are seldom brought up. And yet… I also think of an interview I read with Greenwald where he said that what convinced him of Snowden’s sincerity about bringing forward his revelations was when Snowden told him he was inspired by video games and comic books.

There is radical, explicit art, but there’s also art that worms into the culture and decades or centuries later bursts forward in unimagined effects.”

>  2 March 2014 | LINK | Filed in ,
RT @schock: Stop and Search, Stop and Frisk, key factor in last summer's London Riots: http://t.co/MshkSHfG
Twitter  23 July 2012 | LINK | Filed in
Green Guru Gone Wrong: William McDonough. Cradle-to-Cradle“‘I want to be the Bill Gates of sustainability,’ [I want] to make a royalty off of every green standard and every green product out there.” Proprietary, litigious, self-promoting... in a biting profile Fast Company punctures the mythology around William McDonough and his various projects. While the arrogance of architects comes as no surprise, there’s a lot to unpack here about where for-profit “social ventures” can set back the very causes they ostensibly support.
>  25 November 2008 | LINK | Filed in , ,

On Design Altruism

A US design student writes of her work for US AID getting out the vote in Rwanda in 2000:

“... Even something as simple as an image of a person displaying their voter registration card (as was depicted in the instructional voting poster) can have implications that an outsider would never anticipate. After election day, some people expressed strong feelings in response to this image. Apparently, the image of a person holding up their voter card recalled the ethnic identity cards used to divide Hutus and Tutsis and which were later used to target people during the genocide. People feared that the military police stationed at the voting booths might check their voter card for a stamp and look for ink on their thumb and if they were found to be without either, there could be grave consequences. When I initially learned of the reported ninety percent voter turn-out, I was thrilled. However, as I learned more about the politics of fear involved in these elections, I discovered that I might have unwittingly contributed to creating messages I did not intend. The visual is always political. It was a valuable lesson for me to learn. I just wish nobody else had to pay for it.”

>  27 October 2008 | LINK | Filed in ,

If You Build It

jude sent me this link a while back. The page is part of a Frontline documentary on the life and death of “maverick humanitarian aid expert” Fred Cuny:

“These ‘Housing Pictographs’ are another example of how Fred Cuny was always looking for ways to use a calamity as a catalyst to improve people’s lives.

After Guatemala’s 1976 earthquake, Cuny went to the devastated central highlands to see what he could do. Working with two organizations, OxFam (U.K.) and World Neighbors, he posed a key question to both the NGO staff and the peasants whose adobe homes had been reduced to rubble:

‘How do you make safe a poor person’s house in the rural countryside?’

Fred set out to improve the design and construction of the local housing as it was about to be rebuilt. Mary McKay, the head of the World Neighbor’s Housing Education Office in Guatemala, explained to FRONTLINE how the new building program worked. The ideas were all Fred’s, she said, but ‘the local builders took those ideas and figured out what you actually did when you are out there with a hammer in your hand. Fred wasn’t a mason or a carpenter,’ but he could talk with those who were, and he loved doing that ‘especially with the guys in the sandals who really did the work.’

Cuny would draw pictures which a World Neighbor’s staff member then turned into artwork. The drawings then were silk-screened onto the backs of empty flour sacks, stitched together, rolled up and put on the back of a master carpenter’s moped. The skilled craftsmen, who had worked with Fred in developing these new building techniques, would then drive from village to village throughout the region using the ‘flip charts’ to spread the word.

Although many of those master carpenters were later killed or fled Guatemala as a result of the government’s crack down on people they thought might challenge their authority, many of the houses using Fred Cuny’s techniques are still standing. Guatemala has not yet suffered another earthquake the magnitude of the 1976 quake.”

cuny_skull.png cuny_ladder.png cuny_guy.png

The project sounds like a great example of design in the public interest, a low-tech, simple way to improve people’s lives for years to come — and a small note of hope within the brutality of the U.S.-backed military dictatorship.

But that last sentence is chilling. Particularly, within the context of the page’s patronizing tone.

Were the carpenters targeted because of their work with Cuny and the World Neighbors NGO?

One friend who works on Guatemala tells me:

“Often local ‘authorities’ (including non-elected community leaders) used the conflict as an excuse to settle scores. So maybe [the carpenters] were gaining too much authority in the community, and then were taken out by local thugs who may have been connected to the government, but were acting on their own in this. Or not. Hard to tell.”

Another tells me:

“One category of people who were killed are those who worked with foreigners.”

From here it’s hard to know exactly why the carpenters were killed, but it seems possibile that they were indeed a casualty of the naivete of humanitarian intervention that attempts to remain neutral or indifferent to the complexity of local political relationships and history.

>  10 September 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Haiti, 1919

Crucifixion de Charlemagne Péralte pour la LibertéFrom Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Tragedy of Haiti, 1993:

“The leader of the revolt [against the U.S. invasion], Charlemagne Péralte, was killed by Marines who sneaked into his camp at night in disguise. In an attempt at psywar that prefigured some of Colonel Edward Lansdale’s later exploits in the Philippines, the Marines circulated photos of his body in the hope of demoralizing the guerrillas. The tactic backfired, however; the photo resembled Christ on the cross, and became a nationalist symbol. Péralte took his place in the nationalist Pantheon alongside of Toussaint.”

The photograph was immortalized in 1948 by Philome Obin in his painting, Crucifixion de Charlemagne Péralte pour la Liberté.

>  24 March 2004 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,