“F Word” exhibit examines dirty word ‘forgiveness’
By Rebecca Harrison
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A suicide bomber blows your only
son to pieces. A paramilitary guns down your father. An
intruder rapes you and murders your husband. Could you forgive
“The F word: images of forgiveness” exhibition showcases
the personal stories of those struck by tragedy around the
world, asking how victims are able to forgive the seemingly
unforgivable and sometimes bringing them face to face with
“Forgiveness is such a complex and difficult issue,” Briton
Marina Cantacuzino, who is behind the exhibition, told Reuters
in Johannesburg. “Forgiveness can be the highest ideal or a
soft option and it can be a dirty word for many.”
Launched in Britain in 2004, “The F word” opened this week
in South Africa, a country hailed as a modern miracle whose
transition to democracy from apartheid is meant to embody the
ideals of forgiveness and reconciliation.
People featured include the brother of a man killed in the
World Trade Center on September 11, gay rights campaigner Peter
Tatchell who says he is fighting “unrepentant Christian
bigotry” and a woman held hostage and raped by Chechyan rebels.
One of the exhibition’s most famous and striking examples
is that of Jo Berry, the daughter of Sir Anthony Berry, who was
killed in the IRA Brighton bombing. She later became a personal
friend of Pat Magee, the man responsible for his death.
“Sometimes when I’ve met with Pat, I’ve had such a clear
understanding of his life that there’s nothing to forgive,”
Berry, who is pictured with Magee standing expressionless
against a brick wall, is quoted as saying.
Cantacuzino said that since starting the project, she has
broadened her definition of forgiveness and now uses the
exhibition to explore alternatives to tit-for-tat violence,
rather than simply featuring super-human acts of stoicism.
“One day you might forgive and the next you hate all over
again,” she said. “My favorite definition of forgiveness is a
struggle for understanding.”
While forgiveness is a central tenet of the Christian
faith, Cantacuzino says she has tried to limit explicit
religious references to avoid the idea that only Christians can
The exhibition, which includes more than 50 stories, each
accompanied by a photograph, features several tales from South
Africa, highlighting the residual pain 12 year after the end of
apartheid, despite some impressive cases of reconciliation.
Father Michael Lapsey, a white anti-apartheid activist
whose hands were blown off by a letter bomb while in exile,
says he “can be more of a priest with no hands than with two
hands,” and is pictured sipping a cup of tea which he holds
with metal pincers attached to his arms.
But Sarah Letanta, who was shot during South Africa’s
political violence of the early 1990s, is less forgiving: “I
hate the people who did this to me. I’d like revenge.”
Others featured in the exhibition have also struggled to
forgive. Mariane Pearl, who was pregnant when her husband U.S.
reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered in Pakistan by Islamic
militants, has sought the death penalty for his killers.
“Forgiveness is not a value strong enough to stand on. You
have to win some sort of victory over the people who have hurt
you,” she is quoted as saying.
Anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who
contributes to the exhibition, disagrees: “To forgive is not
just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest.”