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Humanidad – Working Children at the Glendon Gallery

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<p>One of the most moving exhibitions in recent memory opened on February 15<sup>th</sup> at the Glendon Gallery with the title, <em>Humanidad &ndash; Working Children</em>. It<em> </em>is a collection of photographs, which are the result of a long-term project by Quebec artists <a href="http://www.culturepourtous.ca/articles/diasol_en.htm"><span>Miki Gingras and Patrick Dionne,</span></a> who have named their endeavour &ndash; and their collaboration - Humanidad.</p>
<p>For the past five years, photographer Gingras and visual artist Dionne have been devoting five months each year to travelling around in Nicaragua&rsquo;s poorest areas, using their Volkswagen microbus as their transportation, their home and their workshop. These inspiring artists collaborate with working children on recording their daily lives in photographs.</p>
<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/Gingras_and_Dionne__bw_photos.JPG" alt="" width="408" height="321" /></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span class="image_caption">L-r: Miki Gingras and Patrick Dionne in front of photos taken by village children</span></p>
<p>The Glendon exhibition is a collection of black and white photos taken by the children, as well as colour photographs and videos taken by the two artists. One of the most poignant images portrays a boy of about 12 standing next to a large pile of mud bricks. Dionne described the boy&rsquo;s day: he rises at 3 a.m. and goes out to produce as many bricks as he can, covered in mud, out in the open. By noon, the sun gets too hot to be out; he leaves his bricks to dry, goes home, washes up and attends school from 1 p.m. to about 7. At the end of the day, he returns home, eats his meal and goes to bed, starting the next day, once again at 3 a.m. He has been doing this work since he was 9 years old.</p>
<p><img style="float: left;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/The_boy_who_makes_mud_bricks.jpg" alt="" width="237" height="192" /><span class="image_caption">Left: The boy who makes mud bricks</span></p>
<p>Other photos show children selling goods at a market, carrying wood, or working in the fields. Some of the most disturbing photos show a garbage dump outside Managua, where 60 years of trash has been accumulated in a mountainous heap.<span>&nbsp; </span>Children, as well as adults, sort through dirt and dangerous materials, breathing in toxic vapours. Many of these children take refuge from their miserable existence by sniffing glue &ndash; the average life expectancy is 30 years.</p>
<p>Humanidad&rsquo;s approach to the photo project and the resulting pictures differ greatly from the images of suffering and misery to which we have become accustomed. &ldquo;We are artists, but we want our subjects to benefit, to create, to learn&rdquo;, said Gingras. &ldquo;Through this collaboration, these children become the artists of their village and they are proud of what they accomplish.&rdquo;</p>
<p><img style="float: right;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/Two_sleepers.jpg" alt="" width="208" height="252" /></p>
<p><span class="image_caption">Right: Two sleepers</span></p>
<p>Gingras and Dionne, who are fluent in Spanish, involve these working children in their photo project at every step. They approach the local organizations for their approval, to make sure that the children don&rsquo;t to feel exploited. They leave it up to the children and their parents to organize their time, so that they don&rsquo;t interfere with their daily duties.</p>
<p>Together they create rudimentary &lsquo;cameras oscuras&rsquo; out of tin cans, using paper instead of film for negatives. They teach the children how to take pictures and how to develop them, setting up makeshift darkrooms and then hand the project over to them, allowing them to be the ones to record their own lives and their communities.</p>
<p>After spending three weeks in a location, the artists and the children hold an exhibition displaying their photos in each village. As they move on, they leave the pictures and the negatives behind, enabling them to have a continued presence.</p>
<p><img style="float: left;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/A_worker.jpg" alt="" width="214" height="184" /></p>
<p><span class="image_caption">Left: A Worker</span></p>
<p>Dionne confirmed that these young children are very serious and proud of the work they do, no matter how menial or physically demanding. They know that their families need their earnings for daily survival and they take it for granted that this is what they must do. With over 50% of Nicaragua&rsquo;s population under 18 years of age, work must extend to and include the very young.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Today, the act of creating is much broader than just putting paint on canvas&rdquo;, commented Marc Audette, Glendon Gallery&rsquo;s curator, at the opening. &ldquo;In Humanidad&rsquo;s project, art is extended to the subjects &ndash; these working children &ndash; and they ultimately take over the creative role. Through this transfer, the tools, the location and the actors in art are extended beyond the traditional roles.&rdquo;</p>
<p><img style="float: right;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/boy_on_garbage_heap.JPG" alt="" width="251" height="189" /></p>
<p><span class="image_caption">Right: The garbage sorter</span></p>
<p>&ldquo;What is so admirable in Humanidad&rsquo;s approach is their collaboration, their inclusivity and their attempt to understand these children&rsquo;s world from their point of view&rdquo;, commented Christina Clark-Kazak, Assistant Professor in Glendon&rsquo;s International Studies Department and in the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs. &ldquo;Humanidad&rsquo;s approach is sensitive without being sensational, looking for the everyday reality, not the dire or the horrifying&rdquo;, added Clark-Kazak, who is also President of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. &ldquo;These children display an element of pride for their contribution to their family and they don&rsquo;t necessarily feel victimized.&rdquo;</p>
<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/Rheault_Gingras_Dionne_Audette.JPG" alt="" width="421" height="317" /></p>
<p style="text-align: center;"><span class="image_caption">L-r: Martine Rheault, Glendon&nbsp; Coordinator of Artistic and Cultural Affairs; artists Miki Gingras and Patrick Dionne; and Marc Audette, Curator of the Glendon Gallery</span></p>
<p>Dionne explained that these children may not have a childhood as we know it, but many of them have innocence and hope, and the adults in these communities also enjoy acting like children, when the occasion presents itself. The working children in these areas conform to what is expected &ndash; they have no choice &ndash; but they are proud of their role in their family&rsquo;s existence.</p>
<p><img style="float: left;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/crowd.JPG" alt="" width="243" height="183" /><span class="image_caption">Left: An eager audience listens to the artists' explanations</span></p>
<p>And what is the hoped-for long-term benefit of the project? &ldquo;Every experience can be the start of something new&rdquo;, explained Gingras, &ldquo;touching and encouraging people, opening a window on a new opportunity.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Gingras and Dionne will return to Toronto in May for an educational project with the title <em>L&rsquo;&eacute;cole s&rsquo;expose &agrave; Glendon</em> [The school exhibits at Glendon], in collaboration with the Glendon Gallery and Glendon&rsquo;s visual arts teaching staff. The project is funded by the <a href="http://www.arts.on.ca/Page94.aspx"><span>Arts Education Projects</span></a> of the <a href="http://www.arts.on.ca/"><span>Ontario Arts Council</span></a> and will target students of Toronto&rsquo;s <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Coll%C3%A8ge_fran%C3%A7ais"><span>Coll&egrave;ge Fran&ccedil;ais</span></a>. In an interactive format, these students will learn about Humanidad&rsquo;s artistic process, hone their art criticism skills, learn about new directions in today&rsquo;s visual arts field and produce artwork, which will be exhibited at the Glendon Gallery.</p>
<p><img style="float: right;" src="http://monglendon.yorku.ca/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/20110222/Furgiuele_Doupe.JPG" alt="" width="236" height="177" /><span class="image_caption">Right:L-r: Rosanna Furgiuele, Associate Principal Student Services and Aaron Doupe, Manager Student Affairs among the visitors</span></p>
<p>Humanidad &ndash;Working Children is on view at the <a href="http://www.glendon.yorku.ca/gallery/english/index.html"><span>Glendon Gallery</span></a> until March 24<sup>th</sup>. The Gallery&rsquo;s website can provide directions, hours of operation and further information.</p>
<p><em>Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny</em></p>

Published on February 22, 2011