Field Notes

Field Notes

Field Notes: July 2014


Friends and Colleagues

Inside PROOF

  • Partnering with Indian Photojournalist Smita Sharma to Focus on Rape
  • Refugee Testimonies Workshop at Clark University


Traveling With PROOF

  • Is Our Art+Justice Tour for You? Let’s See . . .

Perspectives From Our Blog

  • Speak Out for the Children: No Child Brides

Photo: Honey Berstein

Photo: Honey Berstein


Friends and Colleagues

Twin holidays in July, American Independence Day and French Bastille Day, celebrate the freedom and justice that thousands were willing to die for in the 18th century.

In the 21st century, researchers are finding not only a universal need for justice––it’s hard wired in the human brain––but also individual differences in the sensitivity to justice and fairness.

So while on July 17, the world celebrated International Criminal Justice Day––the anniversary of the Rome Treaty founding the International Criminal Court (ICC) ––two weeks earlier, African leaders gave themselves a pass on justice in the planned African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

They not only granted leaders and senior officials immunity from prosecution, they also expanded the new court’s jurisdiction to cover the prosecution of others for committing the very same evils they exempted themselves from: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  

Some experts view these moves as a strategy to limit the reach of the ICC, which is supported by 122 state signatories to the Rome Treaty, 43 of which are in Africa (the US is not one).

As the court of last resort, the ICC becomes involved only when states do not or cannot prosecute perpetrators in compliance with international human rights standards.

Should the new African court ever materialize––which remains to be seen––ruthless leaders could argue that the ICC has no jurisdiction in their countries.

The appeal of that outcome is hardly surprising considering the court's recent achievements.

This spring, former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison, and the court recently decided to prosecute former Côte d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo, both for crimes against humanity.

The ICC has also indicted two sitting African presidents, including Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. While Bashir campaigns to persuade African leaders that the court is a neocolonial weapon, his janjaweed militias use barrel bombs—shrapnel-packed explosive devices dropped from aircraft—to murder and maim civilians.

And about that complaint that ICC focuses only on Africa: the reality is more complex. In five of the eight African countries with people facing charges, the country itself asked ICC for help.

Who made those requests? The same leaders who are complaining!
No, they were not looking at their own misbehavior––they were seeking action against armed groups active in their country. In the eyes of tyrants, seeking “justice” is simply a ruse to maintain power.

Most likely, there will always be people who strive for true justice and others who seek to subvert it. It takes guts and stamina to keep fighting for human rights, but the alternative is too disturbing to contemplate. And while we soldier on, let’s never stop celebrating the successes we have achieved.

Inside PROOF

Partnering with Indian Photojournalist Smita Sharma to Focus on Rape

A woman in a village of West Bengal walks over rice husk to separate them (Photo: Smita Sharma).

A woman in a village of West Bengal walks over rice husk to separate them (Photo: Smita Sharma).

PROOF: Media for Social Justice is partnering with Smita Sharma, a photojournalist who has worked on social issues in New York for the past year, to expand The Legacy of Rape project to her home country of India, where rape has been a persistent problem.

Public misconceptions about rape and sexual assault have long stymied support for community action. Victims of rape in India are often blamed, ostracized, and ridiculed, resulting in unreported cases and unpunished perpetrators.

“In India,” Smita said, while speaking at the Annual PROOF Benefit Auction, “every twenty minutes there are two cases of rape, but for every two cases reported, there are sixty not reported.”

Collaborating with local agencies working on women’s issues and sexual violence in India, Smita will reach out to victims to gather their testimonies and share their stories. Giving these women a voice will not only aid in personal healing, but will also educate the public about the realities of the issue.

For progress to occur, the roots of the problem must be understood and the population must acknowledge the facts.

Using the momentum of international attention brought after the brutal gang rape of a young journalist, Smita hopes to change perceptions, raise awareness about the issues, and, ultimately, contribute to working towards a solution.

PROOF will use these new testimonies and photographs to create an original exhibition in India and supplement its exhibitions already traveling around the globe.

Refugee Testimonies Workshop at Clark University

From September 19 to 21, PROOF Executive Director Leora Kahn will be teaching a three-day workshop, “Witnessing: Taking Testimonies and Constructing Refugee Narratives,” at Clark University. The workshop will cover the methods and ethics of testimony taking and the uses and importance of refugee testimonies.

Participants will practice taking testimonies based on the topics and methods discussed in class and go on a field trip to an oral history exhibit based on refugee testimony that coincides with the opening of PROOF’s exhibit, “Picturing Moral Courage: The Rescuers” at the university.  

Tuition for the workshop is $550; a $150 deposit is due by August 31. Two tuition-only scholarships will be awarded to participants with refugee backgrounds.

To apply, email a cover letter and a recent CV to workshop administrator Danielle Strandson by August 20. Contact Danielle for more information.



Traveling With PROOF

Is Our Art+Justice Tour for You? Let’s See . . .

Okay, it's not for everyone. Maybe you’re not interested in social issues or emerging arts scenes. Possibly you’d be bored meeting artists and collectors or traipsing off to private art collections or galleries that are closed to the public.

But if that sounds exhilarating, read on!

We’ve organized a very special trip to Bogotá, where we have been working for the past year with artists, NGOs, UN staff, and academics to give a voice to survivors of sexual torture stemming from the decades of armed conflict in Colombia.  

That work merged art and social issues in a highly successful exhibition, “My Body: A War Zone,” that was completed this spring and traveled throughout the country.  

Now you can be a part of that energy, healing, and inspiration. Join us on October 21-26 for our Art+Justice Tour and connect with social justice artists and activists and socially conscious art collectors in the beautiful, historic city of Bogota.

On the trip, you will go to studios of notable Colombian artists, galleries, and museums, a private dinner and reception at the home of a prominent art collector and art critic, and much more.

The trip costs $4,000 per person ($1,000 is a tax-deductible contribution to PROOF), which includes hotel, breakfast, lunch, three dinners, guides, and local transportation (it does not include airfare to Colombia).

Contact Leora Kahn at for details.

Perspectives From Our Blog

Speak Out for the Children: No Child Brides

Around the world, millions of helpless children are forced into marriage, violating their basic human rights and international law.

Every year, 14 million girls are married before age 18; as many as 75 percent of girls in some countries face this terrible fate.

The future is bleak for these girls, who more often than not, become trapped in a life of poverty, lack of education, health problems, and sexual and psychological abuse.

Read our July 1 blog post, “Trend for a Cause,” to learn more and be inspired by the innovative White Bindi Art Project, which has gained considerable attention in the Indian media and fashion worlds.

To show your support, here are some actions you can take:
Take a stance against child marriage. Sign the petition here.

Support Educate Girls, which aids close to one million children, engaging students, teachers, schools, communities and government officials to create sustainable educational resources.

July Media


This month, we take a look at some photos from the inaugural PROOF Social, held on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at The Rookery Bar in NYC. Thanks to all of our amazing volunteers and everyone who came along and made the night such a success. Make sure you keep your eye out for more PROOF Socials.