Being Appreciative

Abbas MEXICO. State of Guerrero. Village of San Augustin de Oapan. Boy wears a mask made of cardboard. 1984.

At the ‘Abbas, 45 Years in Photography’ exhibition at the National Museum last weekend, a mother was standing with her child in front of this photograph. Mother told Son to observe how poor the child in the photo was, “so poor that he has to make his mask out of discarded cardboard, unlike the store-bought mask you have at home, the one with the fancy feather, remember? That is why you must learn how to share, because there are less fortunate children like this Mexican boy.”

At first I was impressed by how she incorporated values education into their exhibition viewing outing. This is good, yes. It’s a start, certainly, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised what I was uncomfortable with. I’d like for us to aspire to more. Not to settle for mere pity and charity, which creates an unhealthy power imbalance that perpetuates the unfair social structures that created these economic disparities in the first place. Instead, I’d like for us to appreciate and celebrate. For who amongst us can look at that same photo and instead applaud this Mexican child for his creativity, ingenuity and do-it-yourself spirit to be able to fashion something of value out of something others see as trash? Perhaps, just perhaps, the child who can see this will grow up to become one who is part of the solution, not the problem.

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