From Nairobi, Kenya to New Haven’s most upscale hotel, a new photography exhibition offers a glimpse into adolescence in Africa’s largest slums.
The Kibera Photo Project, directed by Tegan Bukowski ARC ’13, is the result of a photography workshop aimed to help children from Nairobi’s Kibera Slums, intended to help them think through the concepts of peace, community and togetherness in the aftermath of the nation’s extreme violence in 2006. Representatives from The Study at Yale, where the exhibit was installed Oct. 23, say the exhibit will in turn encourage visitors to consider a level of daily poverty they would not otherwise experience.
Bukowski, the founder and executive director of a non-profit group called Artists Activists, said she became involved with the photography project after travelling to Africa in summer 2010 as media manager of the Digital Democracy organization, a group that promotes democratic ideals through online media. When a team member founded a Nairobi-based peace-promoting group called “Sisi Ni Amani” (Swahili for “We are Peace”), Bukowski was asked to initiate a design project for the group’s first event, which later turned into the Kibera Photo Project.
Kenya experienced high levels of violence in the aftermath of the 2006 presidential elections, Bukowski said, much of which affected children in the nation’s slums.
“There was just a ton of rioting, and a lot of people were killed,” she said. “A lot of these kids witnessed that.”
Members of the Kibera Photo Project provided local children with digital cameras and taught them elementary photo-design skills. Kids were encouraged to explore the notion of peace in their community through a different themed assignment each day, with topics ranging from “texture” to “happiness.”
“We wanted the kids to be able to tell their own story through a medium that’s often used to document them,” Bukowski said. “Tourists usually come into the slums and take pictures of these kids, their families and where they live. We wanted to give the kids the cameras, and have them turn the lens on themselves.”
At the end of each day’s workshop, children were given time to reflect on their experiences through writing, Bukowski said. The exhibition presents excerpts from these reflections alongside the photographs.
The purpose of showing the Kibera Photo Project at a place like Yale, Bukowski said, is to encourage people to think of the slums in a different way. She added that while Yale students usually associate slums with emaciation and disease, seeing life from the kids’ point of view reveals their friendships, sports, games and joy.
“Kibera is a happy place,” project participant Sharon Akinyl wrote in a reflection displayed on The Study’s wall.
Bukowski’s project is the seventh student exhibition to occupy The Study’s Aisling Gallery since the space began showcasing student artwork in Oct 2010. While previous student exhibitions — most recently, those by Julia Bland ART ’12, Nikki Maloof ART ’11 and Iliana Ortega ART ’11 — have lasted six to eight weeks, Bukowski’s is scheduled to remain up until Jan. 10.
“[The idea is] to bring the University into the hotel, and showcase what the students are doing,” said Anthony Moir, director of operations at The Study.
According to Moir, the rewards from displaying student exhibits in the Aisling Gallery are twofold: while the hotel benefits from the projects’ artistic appeal the student artists benefit professionally from heightened publicity, as many visitors inquire about the projects. One year, The Study facilitated a meeting between Njideka Akunyili ART ’11, whose collages have been shown in the gallery, and a board member at the Yale University Art Gallery who expressed interest in her work.
Now, with Bukowski’s exhibit, The Aisling Gallery gives visitors a fresh appreciation of international issues, said Raphael Pimental, a front office agent at the Chapel Street hotel.
“It’s a wonderful thing that she’s doing,” Pimental said. “When you aren’t exposed to this level of poverty on a daily basis, it’s hard to understand that what you and I discard is what [others] live off of … Being in there alters you. It changes you.”
The non-profit group Artists Activists aims to create a traveling design school in which artists, students and professionals collaborate to teach underserved children around the world.