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The F-word.

THE F-WORD: Images of Forgiveness, a powerful and moving exhibition which ran in London in January, gave voice to 26 people from around the world who had experienced tragedy or atrocities. Their photographs, by Brian Moody, were accompanied by interviews by Marina Cantacuzino.

Most of those featured had found it in themselves to forgive. Many had set up grassroots organizations involved in conflict resolution, victim support and reconciliation. Some had now befriended and work with the perpetrators.

'There are those who see forgiveness as an immensely noble and humbling response to atrocity--and those who see it as a weak gesture which lets the violator off the hook and encourages further violence,' Cantacuzino tells me. 'This is why we called the exhibition The F-Word. For some people, forgiveness is a very dirty word indeed.'

As a journalist, Cantacuzino has spent her life telling people's stories, often using their own voices. The idea for the exhibition came to her in 2002, during the lead-up to the Iraq war, when the media was full of talk of retribution and revenge.

She saw a TV interview with the father of a child who was killed in hospital when given laughing gas instead of oxygen. 'The media reports these terrible accidents when children are killed and usually the parents, quite understandably, want retribution and reparation,' she says. 'This father, though, saw the pain of the surgeon who had made the mistake, hugged him and told him he forgave him.'

Cantacuzino was deeply moved. 'These are the stories I want to try to find and tell,' she says, 'and I believe these are the stories people want to hear. The desire for retribution is understandable, but it is an endless cycle, there is no hope there. I passionately believe there is the possibility for change in the other approach.'

She had already worked with Brian Moody on a words-and-pictures exhibition about mental health, 1 in 4. They decided to try the same format with forgiveness. In the end, Cantacuzino says, the project turned out to be more about the struggle for dialogue and understanding, the fight to see humanity in the face of the enemy, to understand why people get trapped into violence and do what they do.

All those whose stories were depicted were invited to the opening of the exhibition. Fifteen came, including Alistair Little, a former Protestant paramilitary in Northern Ireland, and David, who had murdered two members of his family. 'The sympathy for the victims was, of course, great, but here were two perpetrators who had had the courage to come and talk to others who had been hurt. Animated, intimate conversations took place between Alistair Little and Camilla Carr, who was repeatedly raped while being held hostage in Chechnya; and between Marian Partington, the sister of one of serial killer Fred West's victims, and David. All said it had been such a healing experience meeting and talking with each other.'

These were outcomes that Cantacuzino had not envisaged when she started the project. 'If people can see forgiveness and understanding happening, then there is hope for the future,' she says.

The exhibition was attended by over 5,000 people, and received a good deal of press, TV and radio coverage.

It can be viewed at www.theforgivenessproject.com, which invites submissions of further stories of forgiveness and reconciliation. Meanwhile the exhibition itself will be touring the UK, has an invitation to South Africa and is available for booking.
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Title Annotation:PEOPLE MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Author:Campbell, Edie
Publication:For A Change
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Words:577
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