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Rwanda. The name of a country which is now only known for an unofficial and blatantly ignored genocide. One million people massacred in the space of one hundred days, yet nothing was done to help. In Levi-Strauss’s article ‘A sea of grief is not a proscenium’ he seems to indicate the reasoning behind this was that these types of images are too common and their meaning has been taken away. The images don’t make us want to take action but instead steer us towards acceptance, they act as a reminder of what we are free of.
I believe that Levi Strauss’s main argument seems to be that the media coverage of the Rwandan genocide was too little too late and they lacked any sort of meaning and therefore effect on the readers. This disconnect between what the camera has captured and reality leads Levi Strauss to a piece by Alfredo Jaar titled, “The Eyes of Gutete Emerita. The Piece consisted of two light-boxes which showed a block of text in each box, there were ten lines of text in each box and they remained there for forty-five seconds. The text then dissolves and new text appears, this time five lines per box and lasting for thirty seconds. This then dissolves to allow the next lines of text, this time only two lines remain ‘I remember her eyes’, ‘The eyes of Guete Emerita’. These last two lines say for fifteen seconds, then suddenly the image of Gutete’s eyes flash into view filling the two frames. Then before you could react they disappear leaving you with that image burned into your brain.
The reason I think that Levi Strauss believes this piece of work counters the argument of there is no power left in the photograph is because it doesn’t focus on the bigger picture. He quotes a statement from Stalin saying, ‘A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic’. When you concentrate on one individual rather a group, you get to know them, their story, who’ve they’ve lost, what they are doing now to try and move on, you give them a name and this then as a result humanises them and makes you care. If you looked at an image of a pile of dead bodies, it will probably make you sad, but you don’t know any of them their death has no personal effect on you. Jaar gave you background, a story of one woman who lost most of her family and who had to continue to hide to save her life as no one was coming to help her. Only after learning her story you are presented with her eyes, the eyes of someone who has seen it all personally and by looking into her eyes we maybe see the massacre through her eyes.
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