Images of Reconciliation

Images of Reconciliation

Helping produce documentaries in some of the world's most troubled regions, Adj. Asst. Prof. Charles Meyer (Fine Arts) snapped photographs of people coping with the cost of conflict: an Anglican priest who had lost his hands to a South African letter bomb, or a Croatian survivor of a Serbian prison camp returning to his war-scarred community.

Charles Meyer
Meyer has assembled these photographs into an exhibition, "Witnessing Conflict: Photographs from the Balkans, Kosovo, and South Africa," that evokes the human capacity for reconciliation. It is on display through Dec. 12 at the Campus Center Art Gallery at Fitchburg State College.

"The pictures present the perspectives of people who were perpetrators, victims, and/or survivors of these conflicts, and who have come to an understanding of the necessity for reconciliation," said Meyer, who is seeking future exhibition sites for the show in Boston and Washington, DC.

"I opened it [the letter bomb] on a coffee table - if I'd opened it higher up, it would certainly have knocked off the head or the heart. So, it was miraculous to physically survive. But I think the more important survival was the spiritual survival. I realized that if I was filled with hatred and bitterness and the desire for revenge, they would... have killed the soul. And because I had traveled the world for many years in the cause of the struggle against Apartheid, when I was bombed, people from all over the world sent messages of prayer, love, and support — people of faith and people of no faith. And I think that was the vehicle that enabled me to make my bombing redemptive - to bring life out of death, the good out of the evil. "But if someone were to come to me and say, 'Well, I sent you the letter bomb,' I would first want to know, does that person still make letter bombs?...I would rather that person spent the next 50 years working in a hospital and would be very happy to say to that person, 'Yes, I forgive you! And I would sooner you stay in that hospital rather than be locked up in a prison, because I believe in restorative justice, not retributive justice.'" Father Michael Lapsley
Anglican Priest
South Africa, 1999
Meyer began taking the photographs in 1998 while accompanying BC documentary-makers Rev. Raymond Helmick, SJ, a part-time member of the Theology faculty, and Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts) to world trouble spots over the past five years. The pictures and accompanying texts are drawn from a larger, ongoing project on conflict and its resolution, he explains.

"The project focuses on the subject of peace, reconciliation, and restorative justice in regions torn by conflict between peoples of differing ethnic nationalities or religious persuasions. To date, the project has examined conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Israel/Palestine, Kosovo and South Africa - the only country that has had a peaceful transference of power."

The films produced through the project include "South Africa: Beyond a Miracle" (2001), "Prelude to Kosovo: War and Peace in Bosnia and Croatia" (1999) and "Out of the Ashes: Northern Ireland's Fragile Peace" (1998). Another documentary in the series is slated to premiere later this month.

"In each region I have photographed a wide and disperse group of committed individuals, who openly present their respective views and insights on the nature of conflict," said Meyer, whose portraits include politicians, displaced peoples, Kosovo refugees, former political prisoners from Northern Ireland, and members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.

"Five months I was in Mitrovica, a prison camp in Serbia. When I got out I was like a war prisoner, but I wasn't in the war. Thanks to the Red Cross, I came back to my city. I am not ashamed of Vukovar. It is my city. "There is a future. But it takes time. Some people have dreams that everything will be solved very fast. But it's not possible. I'm a carpenter. You cannot rebuild so fast. When Vukovar is again like it used to be, I will be gone. I will be dead." Vinko
Survivor of the siege of Vukovar
Croatia 1998
One of Meyer's subjects is Father Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest and former African National Congress chaplain who was an outspoken critic of the South African government's apartheid policies. In 1990, Fr. Lapsley lost his hands and an eye in an explosion caused by a letter bomb, believed to have been sent by South African security forces.

"The text accompanying the photographs was edited from interviews recorded in the field. The edited selections are an integral part of the presentation, addressing the issues and providing individual reactions to extraordinarily difficult situations."

Meyer's work has been exhibited at the McMullen Museum of Art and numerous other museums and galleries, including the Addison Gallery of American Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. His South African photos were exhibited last year at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Photos and texts provided by Charles Meyer


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