With the click of a camera

Eritrean women capture a brighter future through photography

Photos taken by Eritrean refugees are shown here embedded on this quilt, on display at Aceartinc. Sarah Crawley

In an outlandish and exceptionally cold new world with a difficult language barrier, 12 refugee women from Eritrea found their voice through photography and have put it on display.

Through Picturing a Brighter Future, a collaboration with Winnipeg artist Sarah Crawley, the Eritrean women have learned how to speak through pictures in a whole new world.

“We developed the notion that photography is universal in a way, you don’t need to speak the same language to read an image,” said Crawley, who taught the women how to take a photograph.

“The Eritrean community wanted to empower the women in this new, strange place,” said Tricia Wasney, public art manager at the Winnipeg Art Council. “It was not only an art experience, but about identity in this community.”

All the women involved were new to Canada. Some had lived here for only a month or two before they started the project and most didn’t speak any English. The women spent 18 months exploring the world of photography through workshops led by Crawley.

The photos they took were of their lives in Canada, their friends, family and community.

“Once they get here they simply want to move forward,” Crawley said. “I saw changes in their confidence level and socializing.”

Hence the name of the exhibit, Picturing a Brighter Future

“The overarching theme is the women’s lives in Canada. I think of it as a group self-portrait,” Crawley said. 

In a way the women mentored Crawely, too, and welcomed her with open arms into Winnipeg’s small, but gracious Eritrean community.

“I would walk away from every meeting with a real sense of joy,” Crawley said. “They are so strong in spirit and so fierce in being mothers. They all work very, very hard. They have had difficult lives.”

Picturing a Brighter Future opens Saturday, Oct. 23 at Aceartinc (2nd floor, 290 McDermot Avenue) at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a traditional Eritrean coffee ceremony, an important social observance to the Eritreans. Visit www.aceart.org.

Published in Volume 65, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 21, 2010)

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