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Here is an article I wrote last year for a local magazine.

What if it doesn’t have any words?
The wordless picture book
by Christopher Malapitan

THE wordless picture book format fundamentally rises above the boundaries of language and literacy. In the words of US Woodcut Historian, David Berona, it represents “not only our different cultures but also our shared humanity”. Without words we’re forced to look closely, concentrate and interpret the image.

In 2009, as part of their research into human trafficking for sexual exploitation, sociologists Yiouli Taki and David Officer contacted me and proposed a comic book that would tell the story of a trafficked woman. It was an innovative idea but faced a significant problem; there are three spoken languages in Cyprus – Greek, English and Turkish. Our budget was unable to cover a trilingual print run. Half-jokingly I suggested, “what if it doesn’t have any words?” Problem solved. My challenge as a visual artist was then to tell a story without words.

Like many other arts fields, such as music, pantomime, ballet and silent film, the wordless picture book has a close relationship with its audience. The absence of words forces a reader to focus on the images. Through pictures, the artist applies the use of icons, stereotypes, symbolism and metaphors to create a language entirely bereft of words. Believe it or not, this form of storytelling has been around as far back as the first cave paintings in 35,000BC.

Fig.1 - The tomb of Menna in Luxor, Egypt

Fig.1 – The tomb of Menna in Luxor, Egypt

The earliest use of the format is believed to be the work of an ancient Egyptian scribe 3,200 years ago on the tomb of Menna in Luxor. The imagery depicts farmers harvesting wheat to pay their taxes (Fig.1). Fast forward to Mexico in 1049AD you’ll find an 11-metre, accordion-folded deerskin filled with images depicting the story of great military and political hero, Lord Eight-Deer ‘Jaguar Claw’. Across the Atlantic in 1066AD, the French produced the grandiose Bayeux tapestry, a 70-metre masterpiece portraying the events of England’s conquest by the Normans.

Arguably the largest and best known wordless story was painted by created by Michelangelo in 1511 and can be found on the Sistine Chapel. In the same period in Europe, various religious and political stories were produced from woodcuts (an image carved into a block of wood, from which a print can be made). The woodcut is the earliest and simplest of the printmaking techniques. It has been in use for centuries as an artistic and commercial medium for spreading ideas to a wide audience.

At the turn of the 20th century in Europe, wordless picture books were pushed into prominence due in part to the Belgian artist Frans Masereel. Like many artists engaged in political and moral issues, Masereel’s woodcut novels depict the human condition and social upheaval of the time. Masereel produced over 50 wordless books in his lifetime but his most popular book is the 1919 Passionate Journey. It is the simple story of one man’s life, love and adventures. With the use of bold, black and white imagery Masereel captured a wide range of emotion and social comment which readers of today are still able to relate to. A novel told in 165 woodcuts, it is considered to be the first graphic novel of its kind and is still in print today.

A book I always return to for inspiration is Shaun Tan’s silent tale The Arrival (Fig.2).

Fig.2 - The Arrival, Sahun Tan, 2006

Fig.2 – The Arrival, Sahun Tan, 2006

It’s the story of a man who leaves his family to find work in a foreign land. The ingenuity of this migration story lies in the method with which the artist engages the reader — giving them the immediate “point-of-view”. The reader joins the protagonist as he tries to make sense of the surrealist world Tan has created. Tan’s beautifully penciled artwork and talent for facial expressions, body language and sense of rhythm creates a pictorial language that communicates various themes such as food, work, communication, loneliness, companionship and happiness. It was this silent masterpiece that influenced me while creating the wordless book I illustrated and co-authored with Yiouli Taki and David Officer The Tunnel (Fig.3).

The unique strength of the wordless picture book is its ability to slip across international boundaries, regardless of language, age and even reading ability. The absence of words liberates creative inhibitions and allows for a plethora of opportunities. The format lets pictures “talk” to an audience and perhaps creates a closer relationship between artist and reader. US psychologist, James J. Gibson, says the pictorial language “gives us a kind of grasp on the rich complexities of the natural environment that words could never do”.

Fig.3 – The Tunnel, Taki, Officer, Malapitan, 2010

Fig.3 – The Tunnel, Taki, Officer, Malapitan, 2010

Thanks to video and wireless technology, we’ve become cultured into becoming more visually thirsty and have acquired the capacity to translate a pictorial language where wordless picture books are to be discovered, not explained.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christopher Malapitan lives and works in Cyprus. The Tunnel features his first illustrations in a wordless graphic novel. The book was published in 2010 by “INDEX: Research & Dialogue” a non-partisan, non-profit NGO based in Cyprus which conducts quality research and promotes public dialogue. 

For more information you can visit https://heruntoldstory.wordpress.com 

or e-mail Christopher Malapitan at cmalapitan@yahoo.com

The Tunnel is available for free from

ANT COMICS book store in Nicosia,

tel. 22-660384.

10 recommended wordless books

• Frans Masereel. Passionate Journey, 1919

• Lynard Ward. God’s Man, 1929

• Milt Gross. He Done Her Wrong, 1930

• Hendrik Dorgathen. Space Dog, 1993

• Eric Drooker. Ballad Song, 2002

• Thomas Ott. Dead End, 2002

• Peter Kuper. Sticks and Stones, 2004

• Andy Runton. Owly, (3 volumes) 2004-6

• Shaun Tan. The Arrival, 2006

• Jason. Sshhhh!, 2008

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By Zoe Christodoulides Published in CYPRUS MAIL on November 7, 2010

The story is unnervingly familiar: a young attractive woman gets caught up in the trafficking web as she attempts to escape the injustices that haunt her. But the very fact that almost everyone who takes a glimpse at her story knows that scenarios like this happen all the time here in Cyprus makes the phenomenon all the more disturbing.

“This story ought to be much less common than it is. Every now and then we catch sight of yet more evidence that the victims of trafficking are perhaps more numerous than we care to admit,” argues Yiouli Taki, brainchild behind a new book focusing on the victims of human trafficking on the island. Senior Researcher of local NGO, Index: Research and Dialogue, the nature of her work saw her team up with colleague David Officer to bring some of their findings to light in the graphic novel The Tunnel.

Step in Christopher Malapitan who put all their thoughts on paper with colourful, eye-catching illustrations. “I suppose we opted for an animated book with more images than words because we wanted to avoid speaking to people in a didactic manner,” says Yiouli. With pictures that may speak louder than words, younger crowds in particular are far more likely to embrace this formula. (more…)

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By Jacqueline Agathocleous-  Published in Cyprus Mail – June 3, 2010

THE NUMBER of cabarets and artistes has fallen in Cyprus but sex trafficking is managing to find new outlets through bars and even rural coffee shops dubbed ‘sex cafes’, the House Crime Committee heard yesterday.
The Committee heard that there has been a radical reduction in women arriving on the island as artistes, with 365 women currently registered in this category compared to around 1,200 in recent years. This is mainly due to a change in how the women are processed by the authorities, which has abolished the ‘artiste visa’
Deputies noted that even though efforts were being made by the current government – and some progress has been achieved  – Cyprus was still far from ridding itself of its bad reputation when it comes to human trafficking.
Committee Chairman, AKEL’s Yiannakis Thoma, said it was a fact that the government had taken specific measures over the past months – such as intensifying checks on artistes arriving on the island and increasing raids on cabarets. This, he said, has led to a reduction in the number of cabarets, as well as foreign women arriving on the island for this purpose.
“But at the same time, there has been an increase in the trafficking of women in other areas, such as bars and even cafeterias,” said Thoma. He said these women could be on the island on a temporary visa, or they may have been lured to Cyprus on the false pretence that they would be carrying out a fake marriage.
Authorities had noted an increase in women – Cypriot and European – as well as around 260 third-country nationals  working as “special barmaids”. Even worse, the Committee was told that rural cafeterias were filling up with European women. (more…)

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Following Article from Cyprus-Mail (08/01/2010)

ECHR: Cyprus failed to protect Russian dancer who fell to her death

CYPRUS has been found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) of failing on multiple accounts to protect 20-year-old Russian dancer Oxana Rantseva, who fell to her death in March 2001 while trying to escape from a fifth-floor Limassol flat owned by a cabaret-owner’s employee. “The failures of the police authorities were multiple,” said the ECHR ruling, published yesterday. The ECHR said the circumstances under which Rantseva had fled the cabaret in which she worked, and had gone to the police in the first place, had been such as to give rise to a credible suspicion that she might have been trafficked. “In the Court’s opinion, there were sufficient indicators available to the police authorities, against the general backdrop of trafficking issues in Cyprus, for them to have been aware of circumstances giving rise to a credible suspicion that Ms Rantseva was, or was at real and immediate risk of being, a victim of trafficking or exploitation,” it added. “However, in the present case, it appears that the police did not even question Ms Rantseva when she arrived at the police station. No statement was taken from her. The police made no further inquiries into the background facts. They simply checked whether Ms Rantseva’s name was on a list of persons wanted by the police and, on finding that it was not, called her employer and asked him to return and collect her.” Hours later she was dead. Rantseva arrived in Cyprus on March 5, 2001 on a temporary visa, having been tricked by a “recruiter” into coming to work in Cyprus as a translator. She found herself employed at Zigos Cabaret in Limassol. A week later she fled the flat she shared with other young women working at the cabaret, leaving behind a note that read: “I’m tired. I’m leaving for Russia.” The cabaret-owner, who was well-known locally, informed the Immigration Office in Limassol that Rantseva had abandoned her place of work and residence. On March 28 – nine days later – she was spotted in the early hours at a local disco by another cabaret artiste, who tipped off Rantseva’s employer. The cabaret-owner, accompanied by a security guard from the cabaret, picked up the young woman and took her to the police. Officers then contacted the duty passport officer at his home and asked him to look into whether Rantseva was in Cyprus illegally. After investigating, he told them that her name was not in the database of wanted persons, but also that there was no record of the cabaret-owner’s complaint and that, in any case, a person did not become illegal until 15 days after a complaint was made. The passport officer contacted Aliens and Immigration, who gave instructions that Rantseva was not to be detained and that her employer, who was responsible for her, was to pick her up and take her to their Limassol Office for further investigation at 7.00am that day. The police officers contacted the cabaret-owner to ask him to collect Rantseva, saying that their instructions were that if he did not take her they were to allow her to leave. The station duty officer released her into the custody of her employer, who was told to come back with her the next day to clear the issue up with immigration. She was taken to a fifth-floor apartment belonging to another of the cabaret-owner’s employees at around 6.00am and locked in. At 6.30am Rantseva was found dead on the street below the apartment. It is thought she slipped and fell while trying to escape from a window. A first-floor neighbour told police that he was smoking on his balcony. “I saw something resembling a shadow fall from above and pass directly in front of me. Immediately afterwards I heard a noise like something was breaking … I told my wife to call the police … I had heard nothing before the fall and immediately afterwards I did not hear any voices. She did not scream during the fall. She just fell as if she were unconscious.” After undergoing an autopsy in Cyprus, Rantseva’s body was transferred to Russia in April 2001, and a second autopsy was carried out, resulting in alleged inconsistencies in the forensic evidence. The ECHR ruling said there were “a number of elements of the Cyprus investigation which were unsatisfactory”. Investigators appeared not to have taken steps to resolve the “conflicting testimony from those present in the apartment” from which Rantseva fell, or other “anomalies” such as the alleged inconsistencies in forensic evidence, or the fact Rantseva made no noise as she fell from the balcony. Also, “despite the lack of clarity surrounding the circumstances of her death, no effort was made by the Cypriot police to question those who lived with Rantseva or worked with her in the cabaret. Further no attempt was made to establish why she was trying to escape or to clarify whether she had been detained in the apartment against her will.” “The authorities were under an obligation to investigate whether there was any indication of corruption within the police force in respect of the events leading to Ms Rantseva’s death,” the Court said in reference to past allegations of corruption in the Cyprus police force. It also said regarding the alleged inconsistencies in the forensic evidence, the Cypriot forensic examiner who had carried out the autopsy had responded that his own conclusions were sufficient and that no supplementary information was required. The ECHR ruling followed a complaint lodged by Rantseva’s father, Nikolai Mikhailovich Rantsev, on 26 May 2004. Cyprus must now pay Rantsev €40,000 in damages and €3,150 for costs and expenses, plus any tax he may have to pay on these amounts. Russia – which was the subject of the complaint jointly with Cyprus – was also found guilty of not carrying out its procedural obligations to investigate the allegation that Rantseva was the victim of sexual trafficking, and was ordered to pay €2,000 in damages.

Previous article

2008 interview with Rantseva’s father, Nikolai Mikhailovich Rantsev

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10 Forms of Control

Amanda Kloer from Change.org posted an interesting list of tactics traffickers use to confine their victims:

1. Coercion and Threats.
2. Controlling Perception.
3. Creating Dependencies.
4. Economic Abuse.
5. False Promises.
6. Indulgences.
7. Isolation.
8. Minimizing and Blaming
9. Privilege: Cultural, Religious and/or Gender.
10. Sexual Abuse

Read the full description of each one here

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Trafficked EU citizens

European workers kept in squalor (Cyprus mail)
By Stefanos Evripidou

photo: POLITIS newspaper

A MAN was remanded in custody for eight days yesterday in connection with charges related to the trafficking and exploitation of 110 EU citizens, who were found living in “squalid conditions” in the Nicosia district.

In an unprecedented operation involving the cooperation of four government services, police yesterday arrested a 38-year-old man in his Lakatamia home, wanted on suspicion of bringing people to Cyprus under false pretences, in some cases withholding their travel documents, exploiting them for cheap labour and keeping them in squalid living conditions.

Police picked up the 110 workers, believed to be Romanian, found living in sites around the Nicosia district, including Kaimakli and Tseri, and took them to Nicosia CID to collect statements.

Head of Nicosia CID, Thomas Efthymiou, yesterday told the Cyprus Mail that police were investigating reports that the 38-year-old had created a “camp” to house the EU citizens, while allegedly mediating with potential employers. One such “camp” was made up of around ten container-looking, box-shaped abodes, with a single makeshift toilet placed outside the row of “houses” for the inhabitants. “From what we saw there, they were living in squalid conditions,” he said.

According to the CID chief, police are looking into allegations that the 38-year-old promised the EU citizens work contracts for specific employment and wages in Cyprus. In reality, the workers would come to the island, get a different job, usually in construction at a much lower wage, and be made to live in terrible conditions, while the 38-year-old also allegedly took a cut from their wages and withheld some travel documents.

“You could say they were living in terror as we are looking into reports that he would have five or ten hired men to keep them in check and under control,” said Efthymiou.

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said the 110 people were “effectively herded” into their dwellings, bringing to mind images of “slavery”.

The 110 Romanians, of which around five were women, were taken to Nicosia CID yesterday where they gave

statements throughout the day. The authorities were in the process last night of arranging hotel accommodation for the suspected victims of trafficking.

According to police, the same man was arrested almost a year ago and a court case is now pending with him facing charges similar to the current allegations. At one of the locations where the workers were picked up by police, there was a sign board with the 38-year-old’s name and number, offering “day worker” services, including moving, unloading containers, cleaning warehouses, gardens, odd jobs, and other services related to construction work. The board also boasted the provision of a 24-hour service by “European” workers.

Head of the Office for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Rita Superman, told the Cyprus Mail last night that the operation was a landmark in terms of inter-departmental cooperation. Her Office had the initial information which it passed on to police. Then, working in coordination with the police, Labour Inspection Department and Welfare Services, the operation was executed, with representatives of all four units involved throughout.

“This is a very good thing. In this way, we will be able to see the problem in its entirety,” said Superman.

The trafficking head noted that another very common phenomenon in Cyprus was the combination of sexual exploitation with labour exploitation. Recently, her Office has been investigating the practice of trafficking Bulgarian women to Cyprus to arrange fake marriages with third country nationals. “The trafficker takes all the money, and they get nothing from the actual wedding, nor for getting married or any work they do, and usually end up in prostitution,” she said. In this case, it is believed the majority of the traffickers are Bulgarian. “The number of cases are rising. Just last week, we registered one court case in Limassol which is now pending,” she added.

Superman said the law on fake marriages was “very weak” and easily exploited. Her Office is currently studying legal proposals which will be submitted to the Attorney-general’s office.

 

Follow up articles:

160 new complaints after human trafficking sting (November 10, 2009)

POLICE HAVE been flooded with new complaints against the 38-year-old man remanded in custody last Thursday in connection with charges of trafficking and exploiting 110 Romanians found living in squalid conditions in Tseri.

According to head of the Nicosia CID, Thomas Efthymiou yesterday, police have received 160 new charges against the 38-year-old by other Romanians living throughout the island. Five interpreters are working round the clock to assist police in taking their statements down. As of 6pm yesterday, around 100 statements had already been filed.

Read on

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Testimony ordeal for former cabaret employee (June 6, 2009)

Call me by my surname and not my first name… (June 12, 2009)

The pigs who sold us wouldn’t provide any condoms (June 17, 2009)

Denied a living wage and forced to have sex for 17euros (June 18, 2009)

Dramatic testimony in trafficking trial (June 25, 2009)

I thought it was a contract to come and be a dancer (July 2, 2009)

‘They made me do it,’ says cabaret artiste (July 3, 2009)

Women told police they liked working at cabaret (July 16, 2009)

Accused of ‘fishing’ girls from cabarets (July 22, 2009)

Prostitution in Cyprus is a theoretical position (September 2, 2009)

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