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ARTS: You can only be a child #once exhibition

By Dominic Muwanguzi

In response to the growing numbers of child labour in poor communities world-wide, a photo exhibition titled #ONCE opened in Kampala recently. The photographs were taken by renowned photographer Jimmy Nelson in Erussi Sub-county, Nebbi District in West-Nile region. They show children in child labour free-zones, including schools, created by different NGOs and local institutions like Kyagalanyi Coffee Factory and Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU).

The photographer-artist uses the technique of showcasing positive images of children in school and choosing themes based on signs to give the children a task.  The children were encouraged to think about a feeling, and emotion or a dream and portray the emotion onto a sign they made themselves.

This approach of exhibiting positive images contributes to the conversation that it is possible to make a difference in the lives of these impoverished souls. It also emphasises the aspect of hope and love the children and community have respectively.

“I would like to turn perceptions on their [children] head, because I believe all these negative images fail to bring a cross a powerful, constructive message,” says Nelson.

The children are photographed displaying small wooden slates with their respective emotions inscribed on them. Themes like peace, joy, dream, hope and trust are showcased with a background of innocent smiling faces.  This participatory element gives an opportunity to the children to showcase their creativity: the placards were designed with flowery borders made by the children.

Additionally, it injects a sense of personal identity and belonging in the images. These images are easily identified as belonging to children and are taken from a rural setting of the country. This is observed by the depth of their smiles, simple school-uniforms and type of physical structures in the background that are characteristic of the country-side.

The realistic images make a universal visual interpretation of the photographs possible, and enable the photographer to share his awareness message of stopping child labour to everyone regardless of nationality, race, age and gender.

Nelson’s approach to Child Labour reveals its complexity.  Child labour denies children the opportunity to be children and yet they are “only children once”.  The exhibition opened on March 23 and will remain open until April 23 at Design Hub Kampala, Next to Baata Shoe Factory, 5th Street Industrial Area.


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