Stars lend hand to rid world of landmines

Steve Boggan on how a young artist persuaded the rich and famous to go out on a limb to aid a good cause
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The Independent Online
A 22-YEAR-OLD artist has brought together some of the biggest names from the worlds of politics, sport, design, music and a host of other disciplines to join in the fight against landmines.

With no money and only a vision to spur her on, Rebekah Gilbertson persuaded the rich and famous to contribute an image of a hand or foot to be published in a booklet entitled "Handlines".

The booklet will be launched tonight at the National Portrait Gallery and then copies will be sold in aid of the British Red Cross's Anti-Personnel Landmines Campaign.

Among those who offered their support are the artist David Hockney, who provided an image of a hand holding up a small placard bearing the words "Love Life".

Others include the footballer Ryan Giggs, Sir Elton John, the violinist Lord Yehudi Menuhin, the musician Joan Armatrading, the sculptor Anthony Gormley, the dancer Darcey Bussell and the guitarist Mark Knopfler.

Ms Gilbertson asked the 45 contributors to imagine what life would be like without a hand or foot - the reality faced every day by hundreds of thousands of victims in 70 countries. According to the Red Cross, there are an estimated 119 million mines waiting to explode.

Among the worst affected countries are Iran (16 million mines), Angola (15 million), Iraq (10 million), Afghanistan (10 million), Cambodia (10 million), Bosnia Herzegovina (up to 6 million) and even Egypt, which is thought to have up to 23 million, many left over from the El Alamein campaign during the Second World War.

"In recent months, the campaign against the manufacture and use of landmines - thanks in part to the worldwide media attention accorded to Diana, Princess of Wales - has come to the forefront of public awareness," Ms Gilbertson writes in the booklet.

"It was this attention which ... prompted me as an artist to be aware of my hands as the tools vital to the expression of my creativity. From there, it was only a small further step which suggested this book."

In a foreword to "Handlines", Martin Bell MP describes his own experiences of encountering landmines as a BBC war reporter and expresses frustration at the political difficulties in dealing with the problem. "The rules of war require that maps be made of all minefields and that some distinction be kept between soldiers and civilians," said Mr Bell. "Yet in the wars of the new world disorder, mines are often laid by retreating units without any record being made of them - or the only record may be stored in the memory of a soldier who laid them and was later killed."

The photographer Ken Griffiths travelled to Angola and Cambodia to photograph victims of landmines for the book.

"These faces told me that they were victims not only of landmines but also of ambitious politicians and greedy generals," he said. "In those who chose to be photographed, all that remained to them in the midst of their universal grinding poverty was their dignity."