Lining the walls of the Memorial Union’s Art Lounge are photographs of children, staring intently into the camera. Their beaming faces fill the canvas and command attention, even more so than the piles of filth that they are standing in.
Haiti’s Hope – Shada’s Story features children and women from Shada, one of the poorest communities in Haiti. Coinciding with the book chosen for this year’s Campus Community Book Project, Tracy Kidder‘s Mountains Beyond Mountains, the display is one of three photo exhibits featuring the work of photographer and activist Leisa Faulkner.
Haiti’s Hope – Shada’s Story is the perfect visual compliment to this year’s book,” said Mikael Villalobos, administrator of diversity education. “The images are simultaneously beautiful and disturbing.“
As the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, Haiti has numerous villages like Shada where destitute poverty is the reality. The disturbing aspects of the images are readily apparent – the town surrounds a fluorescent purple lake with mounds of plastic bottles, trash and feces along its banks. In one photograph, a child without pants or shoes looks playfully at the camera as he wanders through the garbage.
While the abject conditions are striking, the personal stories of the women and children – and their resilience in light of their conditions – allow viewers to be connected to the people of Shada.
“I want [viewers] to look into the eyes of those people and say, ‘That could be my sister, that could be my mother, that could be my child, I can relate to this person,‘” Faulkner said.
However, the exhibit is not meant to elicit a guilt-driven response but to share in the story of the residents of Shada. Faulkner said she hoped to capture the “fierce hope” of the country’s people.
“It is utterly inspiring and compelling,” she said. ” The poorest people in any community are living in the poorest country in this half of the world, and yet they’re proud and strong and determined and vigilantly hopeful.“
According to Faulkner, she did not ask to take photographs of people – instead, she waited until they knew her well enough to ask her for their portrait. In addition to exposing viewers to the humanitarian needs abroad, her photographs also serve to empower the individuals in the pictures.
“What they want to do is share their story,” she said. “They feel like that’s one way they can let people know what they’re going through.“
While the needs for communities at home and abroad are daunting, Faulkner, a mother of five and graduate student in sociology, encourages people to “do what they can.“
“The real impediment for people participating in any type of … humanitarian work is that people are afraid that they can’t make a difference,” she said. “What you just have to do is open your heart and be willing to say, ‘What can I do?'”
With the exhibit’s central location in the Art Lounge, located on the second floor of the MU, the photographs are available for viewing during the gallery’s hours Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Staff director for the Art Lounge Lexer Chou hopes the display will expose students who come by to study or socialize.
“The Art Lounge is honored to showcase this exhibit,” Chou said. “It tells the story of real lives through photography in hopes that it can spark an awareness of their struggles within the campus and larger community.“
Two other Haiti’s Hope photo exhibits from Faulkner – Lavalas and the Preferential Option for the Poor and Poverty with Dignity – are currently on display at the C.N. Gorman Museum in Hart Hall and the South Lobby of the Mondavi Center, respectively. Faulkner will host a reception to discuss the Haiti’s Hope photo series. The reception is free and will be held Nov. 20 at 6 p.m.
For more information regarding Faulkner’s humanitarian work, visit 2childrenshope.org.
CHRIS RUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.