By Jackie Mantey
The February art show at Upper Cup coffee shop in Olde Towne East documents, through the eyes of children, daily life in a forgotten corner of the world.
“100 Voices/Dimtsi” is a collection of 50 photographs taken by children in Keren and Asmara, Eritrea, an African country that borders Ethiopia and Sudan.
The images look far away but familiar — a mother prepares food for her family, a group of young boys huddle together to give thumbs up to the camera, a soccer ball nearby. The collection gives voice to an otherwise mostly unheard population. They have average and profound things to say, just like the rest of us.
“Hearing these children’s voices is important because their presence in this world is important,” said Lwam Eyassu, the founder of the community project. “With knowledge and understanding of different cultures and traditions, we become better citizens of the world.”
Last summer Eyassu, a Northern Kentucky University art student, traveled to Eritrea, her parents’ homeland, to conduct “100 Voices/ Dimtsi.” (Dimtsi means “voice” in Tigrigna.) “When I realized I was finally going to visit Eritrea after more than a decade, I felt that it was an opportunity to do something versus just treating it as a vacation,” she said. “I thought it would be interesting to have an art project that showed Eritrea from the inside out and to do it in an untraditional way.”
The students received 35mm disposable film cameras and very little direction. The results speak for themselves.
“The youth really took this project seriously and understood that their images would be showcased around the world, so they went out of their way to capture things even many Eritreans weren’t familiar with,” Eyassu said. “Being a photographer, I believe that photographs have the effortless power to capture the essence of a person and their surroundings. It takes a second to take the photo, but the image can leave a lasting impact.”
Proceeds from sales of prints of the photographs benefit printing books of the images for each child that participated in the project. After Columbus, “100 Voices/ Dimtsi” will be shown in London and, tentatively, Asmara, the Eritrean capital.