When hatred whorls across a continent, it envelops people, daily life, it cuts off limbs, flattens villages, burns down buildings, and pushes hard against hope, belief. It is difficult to imagine the degree to which the world can turn upside down, and most of the time those of us not amidst or recovering from such destruction, don’t. We should. Not because it’s pleasant. Not because it’s easy or righteous. But because it’s the truth.
Between 1998 and 2007 writer Pedro Rosa Mendes and photographer Wolf Böwig reported on the West African wars. Their work was published in leading magazines worldwide and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In an innovative melding of mediums, they teamed up with 15 of the world’s most celebrated graphic storytellers to create a visually-arresting and powerful film that shares stories of daily life and survival during the wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Ivory Coast. The Black.Light Project film does not attempt to lighten the dark. The legacy of Charles Taylor will reverberate for generations with such complex layering and scaffolding that it is impossible to quantify.
The film not quarantine one aspect of this multi-nation echoing. Black.Light acknowledges the scope of dimension that pain, loss, survival, and hope encompass by exploring it all in a braid of words, photographs, and illustration powerfully resonating together in the film. In addition to Böwig and Mendes, the collaborating visual artists include an internationally recognized and celebrated list of illustrators and creators with a presence in the legacy of the comic book and graphic storytelling fields, including artists from DC and Marvel comics.
Media tends to move on to the most current of current events, and the world’s eyes follow. But for those afflicted by the ensuing post-Taylor wars and deaths, the return to normalcy, to daily life of peace and ease, to moving past is far, far from over, and the stories that inhabit their hours of waking and dreams of sleeping need to be retold–out of respect for those living in the aftermath, and as a reminder to all the rest of us that this extreme swing of the pendulum is a component of humanity, as well. Collectively we share a planet and we witness. The counterbalance of terror is acknowledgement, and from there the first tendril of light can break into a day. And the telling and listening to these stories is the only beacon, the only way to some kind of forward.
Details anchor reality. A boy’s name, Morie. The specific that he and only he survived a village massacre, 1,200 dead. He remembers that also the dogs, goats, and chickens are dead, as well. A man describes learning how to drink water like a dog after his arms were cut off, a specific visual analogy, we can picture this. We weren’t there, but we can picture it. And that bridge, as abstract, as intangible as it is, means something. A film impacts the mind and the heart. And short of clasping hands with another, it is one of the most powerful ways to tell a story. The Black.Light Project does not necessarily explain or eulogize. In the combination of languages of the visual, literary, and aesthetic it choruses against silence, against forgetting, casting a rope to faith in humanity, in memory, in consciousness, to faith in what’s left.