Gelb Gallery Exhibit Reveals Lives of Children in Brothels

A young girl stands confidently on the rooftop of a brothel with a soft smile and her hands behind her back. Wearing a blue, floral-patterned dress, she blends into the blue wall behind her. In the corner of the photograph, a blurry glimpse of what is beyond the blue wall demonstrates the unknown dangers behind the secure sturdy wall. The rooftop served as a “safe” place for the children from the brothel, according to Margaret Harrigan, Instructor in Art. This photo is currently on display at the Gelb Gallery as part of the new exhibit “Kids With Cameras.”

“I believe the picture reveals a trusting and collaborative exchange with [the girl’s] photographer/friend/classmate as the subject portrays such a self-confident expression and congenial disposition,” wrote Harrigan in an email to The Phillipian. “This is peaceful and serene moment in time for a young woman who may well be sold into the same sex industry as her mother. It is a strikingly beautiful portrait.”

The photos in the exhibition were produced at workshops led by Zana Briski, a documentary photographer, in Calcutta, India. The eight children who participated in the workshops live in brothels in Calcutta’s red-light district. This is the third iteration of “Kids With Cameras” by the Art Department at Andover.

Harrigan said, “We have kept this particular collection of images with the intention of sharing with numerous students and the exhibition is a great opportunity to discuss socially engaged art practice. Originally, [Briski] went to India to live and photograph the lives of sex workers, but the children of these workers captured her attention and her heart.”

A different photo in the exhibition features the eight children who participated in Briski’s workshop. The girls wear bright, textured, green-and-blue dresses or blouses, and the boys wear more neutral-colored shirts tucked into their pants. Their bright smiles and formal clothing contrast the dirty, stained street and buildings in the background, which are littered with graffiti and lackluster paint jobs.

“I see humility and spirit among those who are seemingly less fortunate [and viewed] as if they can’t have that ability to have spirit all the time because they have a different childhood than most others,” said Eamon Garrity-Rokous ’20. “So you see in this photo a captured image of people just smiling, having a genuine good time as, not necessarily family, but a family of friends. It gives you a nice feeling in the heart.”

Another photograph, in the three-photo set with the aforementioned pieces, features another young girl in a colorfully patterned dress, wearing a beaded necklace. Unlike most of the photographs in the collection, this one is entirely candid. The girl is caught in a blur with her mouth wide open, presumably laughing and saying something to the photographer.

“The three images suggest the more somber attributes of control, juxtaposed with a group shot of mixed confidence and self-consciousness. The last [candid] picture of the three could be read as complete abandon,” said Harrigan.

During her time living in Calcutta, Briski also co-directed the film “Born Into Brothels” with Ross Kauffman, featuring some of the children from the workshop. The film can be found in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library.