TRIBUTE – Janneth Gil ‘Darkness into light’, 23 Feb – 19 March 2021
Janneth Gil and Viv Kepes were both profoundly moved by the shocking attack on Christchurch’s Muslim community on 15 March 2019. As artists they were conscious of both the historical role of the visual arts as an act of witnessing and remembering of historical events, and reparative power of art for a traumatised society.
Many in Christchurch’s Muslim community already came from highly stressful situations as refugees or immigrants navigating an unfamiliar society. It is a diverse community from many parts of the word, many cultures, bound together by religion, and even then, from different sects. Suddenly a relatively private community that had previously been overlooked or subjected to paranoid hostility, was placed on a very public platform foremost in the public consciousness. In some cases the more conservative families had lost the husband or father, their main point of contact with the city.
Gil and Kepes approached the task from different angles. Kepes chose to record the public’s grief and empathy manifest in the vast piles of flowers and tributes that accumulated outside the mosques and were later displayed in Christchurch Art Gallery. Gil addressed the violence itself, concentrated on the victims and their families, working in close collaboration with them in an ongoing archival installation project. Both are engaged on a mission of solidarity.
Art allows us to approach horror, violence, and the emotionally charged, in indirect ways that engage an audience without retraumatising the community, indulging in voyeurism, or estranging viewers with aggressively implied criticism. Art can mediate and guide in unprecedented situations where we lack the experience or are too emotionally overwhelmed to know how to respond. Importantly, the art in this exhibition does not put the Muslim community in the position of passive subject to have narratives projected on or to be fetishized. We are challenged to engage.
While angry protest against racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia is a legitimate and understandable response to the horror, a combative strategy also runs the risk of alienating an audience. Aside from the obvious evil of the gunman, apportioning broader blame is a critical abstraction that does not translate terribly well to many New Zealander’s experiences or understanding of a world where conflict and violence are a commonplace.
The exhibition’s emphasis on reparative aesthetics, on the other hand, is a way of easing the public into the social and political issues without judgement. Beauty and emotion first, with a thoughtful critical chaser. We are brought closer together rather than pointing fingers at each other. Art can step up to be therapeutic and healing and stimulate important and necessary conversations about the systemic issues of these social poisons in our society.
Gil and Kepes have taken on a powerful responsibility and challenge as interlocutors in this context. They are bridgebuilders, helping us feel a way forward through the unthinkable. This is a secular meditation, an opportunity for deep reflection. It is impossible not to be moved.
– Andrew Paul Wood
“When the March 15th attack on the Mosques happened, it reminded me of the hardship my fellow Colombians and I endured when I was living in Bogotá in the 1980’s and 1990’s – the violence and pervasive sense of insecurity felt within certain areas and demographics of the country due to armed conflict and the war on drugs. These events also triggered a memory of being caught in crossfire with many other people. The Mosque attacks also underlined the importance of familial and community support; the significance of the connections we form, and how these relationships are imperative for us to be able to confront and rise above adversity.
It was extremely heart-breaking to realise acts of such violence could also happen in my new home, New Zealand, a nation seemingly peaceful and tolerant. However, I noted that New Zealanders tended to respond in a supportive way by donating money to help those affected, by publicly acknowledging and discussing systemic cultural problems that could lead to such an atrocity and, of course, through the impromptu expression of grief and remembrance, the act of giving and laying flowers.
In my view, these tributes became a powerful symbol of sympathy, support and respect. The act of giving, seeing and receiving became a gentle vehicle for dialogue which helped create a space where people could open up and discuss social issues that otherwise might have been ignored or even outright denied. This dialogue encouraged tolerance and inclusivity between members of our increasingly diverse multicultural society. This led me to create the Darkness into Light project.
I wanted to make a contribution to our community by helping people through art and photography to consider their own unconscious biases that perpetuate racism and discrimination. The project aims at finding a way to sustain the support shown towards the people affected by the tragic events of March 15th; to keep up the positive dialogue within our public consciousness, and to challenge certain negative perspectives that inevitably linger.
Tribute is one of the many projects under the umbrella of Darkness into Light. It looks to honour the Shuhada, the taken, and the people they left behind. The photographed objects and places serve as witness to an act, carrying the tragedy that accompanied the Shuhada (Martyrs) and other affected individuals. It addresses the violence rather that the scenes of destruction. The photographs of people and the words from the widows Ambreen Naem and Dr. Hamimah Tuyan engraved on the tributes paper donated after the attacks, emphasize their intense feelings of grief, their vulnerability, their strength, and the immense price paid to empower our society to start a serious conversation about some of the systemic problems we have.
Tribute is a call to all of us, so our memory of this tragedy is not forgotten and does not fade away.
It is an invitation to take action to create a more inclusive society.
These photographs were taken thanks to the help of many people including:
Nabila Lovelady, Tim J.Veling, the team from the “Widows of Shuhada” documentary project, members from the Linwood Islamic Centre, Al Noor Mosque (Masjid An-Nur) and the affected families of the Shuhada (Martys), Ambreen Naem, Angela Armstrong, Farah Talal, Dr. Hamimah Tuyan, Muhubo Ali Jama, Sanjida Jaman Neha and Shafia Begum.”
– Janneth Gil