Travels with a Social Justice Objective - A Review

Herb Dempsey

At this month’s Tripod Series the presentation of family travel pictures featured the organizing theme, "Travels with a Social Justice Objective."  Three widely diverse slide sets circled the globe from Bangladesh to Japan and ended in the Middle East.  After the introduction by Lynn DiNino, organizer, she turned out the lights and we settled into an eclectic assortment of folding chairs and turn-of-the-century real wood kitchen seating while Leonard Hill and Cathy Stevulak, Steve and Kristi Nebel and Sallie Shawl showed off the family slides of their trips as a couple dozen spectators meeting Friday in the workshop at Madera Furniture Company at 2210 Court A  watched attentively.

Hill and Stevulak shared an experience, when they became enthralled with a fabric artist while they were both in the Foreign Service.  He was with the State Department and she worked with the United Nations.

The artist, "Surayia Rahman, [is] a self-trained, passionate artist who guided hundreds of underprivileged women in Bangladesh to create masterworks — exquisitely embroidered nakshi kantha tapestries that have been gifted to dignitaries and are admired in collections throughout the world."

A much more detailed study of how Rahman came to create her masterpieces and join the ranks of those who are collected world-wide is found in the May edition of State Magazine (ISSN 1099–4165) which is  published monthly, except bimonthly in July and August, by the Bureau of Human Resources at the U.S. Department of State.

After a brief set-up, the room moved to Japan and the aftermath of the horrific beginnings of nuclear war when the United States decimated civilian populations in Japan.  The Nebels’ slide show detailed their journey with religious remembrances through the summer heat and humidity in Japan as the couple, usually local musicians, sojourned with their newly-found friends to exchange gifts with survivors at the sites of the bombings.

While the travel slides of Hill and Stevulak in their journeys were carefully posed groupings of craftswomen and artists  and close-ups of exquisite stitching, the Nebels were "grab-shots," as new friends became tourists and tourists became pilgrims on a journey of "Repentance and Discovery," when in August of 2009 the Nebels accompanied the "Journey of Repentance," an anti nuclear group, to Japan, and attended the anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb in Hiroshima, and then Nagasaki. The Nebels currently live in their 113 year old house in Tacoma, WA.

Lights up!  Fiddle with the technology so sound comes out of the computer and pictures out of the projector!  Sallie Shawl takes the floor as the third traveler with a social justice objective.  Not since The Blair Witch Project in 1999 has any audience been treated to more neck-snapping, scene-bouncing cinema verité style expose in a less inviting theater.  While that may sound like a harsh review, it is what it is and the pictures are what they are, as Shawl tries to capture her tour of the Apartheid Wall and miles of message in Israel.

The Wall
The Wall
Photo by Sallie Shawl

This travel set of family pictures happened as Shawl realized there are miles of words strung across that section of the 25 foot high security fence (wall) that offers security for Israeli citizens living next to Palestinian families on land both have owned across layers of politically imposed history. The wall is huge and Shawl was traveling in a car on the Palestinian side when she realized, looking 30 feet in the air as the car hurtled down the road, there were strings of letters and words across the miles of concrete barrier.  In a search for the story she sat in the back seat, gathering camera video on her "little, point-and-shoot camera" of the letters and words.  Watching the result, I will also bet the camera doesn’t have any image stabilization algorithm either. Finally, with the help of someone more technically inclined, she matched the letters and words of her choppy, jerky video to the voice of South African Farid Esack who had written the, "Open Letter to the Palestinians."

After visiting Palestine, Esack paralleled his experiences in enduring and opposing apartheid in South Africa.  He wrote his letter and the letter became a huge, miles-long, sermon to folks trapped just like he had been years before.  

The story of the script on the wall is available on the internet.  You will have to convince Shawl to deliver her warning, "This is a little bit jerky and there is sorta like a strobe effect,  so you might want to just listen and close your eyes if it gets to be too much," if you want to see her travel shots from the Wall Experience.  I sincerely suggest you talk her into showing the set and highly recommend you prepare to rebuff motion sickness when you do.

The next Tripod Series Show will be July 19 and deals with "Quirky Tacoma."