Photos by working children in Nicaragua on show at Glendon Gallery

Humanidad – Working Children, an exhibition of photographs taken by working children in Nicaragua, as well as photos and videos by Quebec artists Miki Gingras and Patrick Dionne gleaned from their collaborative project Humanidad, is on now at the Glendon Gallery.

Right: From left, Martine Rheault, coordinator of artistic and cultural affairs at Glendon, Miki Gingras, Patrick Dionne and Marc Audette, curator of the Glendon Gallery, in front of photos taken by children

For the past five years, photographer Gingras and visual artist Dionne have been devoting five months each year to travelling in Nicaragua’s poorest areas, using their Volkswagen microbus as their transportation, home and workshop. They collaborate with working children on recording their daily lives in photographs.

One of the images in the exhibit, which consists of black and white photos by the children and colour photos and videos by Gingras and Dionne, portrays a boy of about 12 standing next to a large pile of mud bricks. Dionne says the boy’s day starts at 3am when he goes out to produce as many bricks as he can, covered in mud. By noon, the sun is too hot to be out and he leaves his bricks to dry, goes home and attends school from about 1 to 7pm. After that he goes to bed, starting the next day again at 3am. He has been doing this work since he was nine.

Left: The boy who makes mud bricks

Other photos depict children selling goods at a market, carrying wood or working in the fields. Some show a garbage dump outside Managua, where 60 years of trash has been accumulated in a mountainous heap, and where children and adults sort through dirt and dangerous materials, breathing in toxic vapours. Many of these children take refuge from their miserable existence by sniffing glue. The average life expectancy is 30 years.

Humanidad’s approach to the photo project and the resulting pictures differs from the usual images of suffering and misery. “We are artists, but we also want our subjects to benefit, to create, to learn,” said Gingras. “Through this collaboration, these children become the artists of their village and they are proud of what they accomplish.”

Right: A boy sorting through the garbage

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’t to feel exploited. They leave it up to the children and their parents to organize their time, so that they don’t interfere with their daily duties.

Together they create rudimentary “cameras obscuras” 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. They then hand the project over to them, allowing them to be the ones to record their own lives and their communities.

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.

Left: Photos of two sleepers

Dionne says 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. More than 50 per cent of Nicaragua’s population is under 18.

“Today, the act of creating is much broader than just putting paint on canvas,” Glendon Gallery’s curator Marc Audette said at the exhibit’s opening. “In Humanidad’s project, art is extended to the subjects – these working children – 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.”

Gingras and Dionne will return to Toronto in May for an educational project, L’école s’expose à Glendon (The school exhibits at Glendon) in collaboration with the Glendon Gallery and Glendon’s visual arts teaching staff. The project is funded by the Arts Education Projects of the Ontario Arts Council and will target students of Toronto’s Collège Français. In an interactive format, these students will learn about Humanidad’s artistic process, hone their art criticism skills, learn about new directions in today’s visual arts field and produce artwork which will be exhibited at the Glendon Gallery.

Humanidad –Working Children is on at the Glendon Gallery until March 24. For more information about the artists, visit the Culture Pour Tous website.

Submitted by Marika Kemeny,Glendon communications officer