By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This Saturday, May 18th, from 4 PM to 10 PM, the young photographers from Rocinha-based NGO Accelerating Community Empowerment (ACE) will be putting on a photographic exhibition at the Mango Tree Hostel in Ipanema. The show, entitled “Heroínas Invisíveis: a Perspectiva da Criança Sobre a Maternidade”, has already been held in London, Ireland, Toulouse, and Perpignan.
Dylan Brown, who co-founded ACE along with George Crawley, explains the inspiration behind the exhibition: “One of the classes that we offer at our community center in Rocinha is a photography class, and as with all the classes that we offer, it’s run by local leader Tony Barros, who is a fairly well-known photographer and professor here in Rio.”
He continues: “He’s from Cidade de Deus, and he does a lot of work with organizations that take photos within the favelas. So about six months into the project, we were looking at running sort of an exhibition because we thought it would be a good way to showcase the kids’ photography.”
The exhibition, which has just arrived in Rio after touring Europe, is part of ACE’s aim to use photography as a skill and these photography exhibitions as a way to empower the local favela community.
“First, it’s an actual job so the kids can learn to take photos and become professionals at it. And that’s what Tony brings. He shows how kids growing up in the favelas can use photography to choose a different path,” Brown explains.
“The other reason why we love teaching photography is that it is such a powerful tool to change stereotypes. Because we believe that before major changes can happen within the favelas, a lot of stereotypes that are holding back favela residents have to change,” he continues.
The exhibition is centered around the children’s views of their mother, a theme that was chosen by the youngsters themselves. “We asked the kids who their hero is, because we wanted to do an exhibition about the heroes of the favelas, and every single kid said their mom.”
All the pictures were taken by the children attending the photography class at ACE; the exhibitors are between six and thirteen years old. Three photographers are exhibiting from a class of around ten children.
Commenting on the exhibition’s global reach, Brown adds “it has been exciting to introduce people into the world of the favelas and what it means to be a mother in the favela. We’ve probably shown the exhibition to around four thousand people so far. So we’re really excited about doing this exhibition at the Mango Tree hostel.”
Over a year ago, ACE teamed up with a local community development center, Tio Lino, which has a long history in the Rocinha favela community. The original project started over thirty years ago when Lino, a resident of Rocinha, would take simple art materials to a square and create art with local children.
Before his death, he turned their family home into the community center ‘Tio Lino’ which is now directed and managed by his oldest daughter, Iris.
ACE works in the background to provide structure and stability to local leaders like Iris, providing a space and a salary to develop the community sustainably.
Brown is keen to stress that the focus should always be on the great work the community leaders are doing. “Our tennis professor is from Rocinha, our photographer teacher is from Cidade de Deus, and our break-dance teachers are from favelas in the north of Rio.”
He concludes: “So the whole point is that we’re in the background. We don’t want to be gringos coming in trying to implement our idea of community development. There are so many Brazilians trying to do good, so why not support them? This is what we’re trying to do with the project.”
What: Heroínas Invisíveis: a Perspectiva da Criança Sobre a Maternidade
When: Saturday, May 18th, from 4 PM to 10 PM
Where: Mango Tree Hostel, Rua Prudente de Morais, 594 – Ipanema