Award-winning French-Italian photographer Matilde Gattoni’s career spans 15 years, 35 countries and four continents. Originally commissioned by the UN to cover the consequences of war and drought on the local populations of Eritrea and Tajikistan, her work focuses on human rights issues around the world, especially in war-torn countries. Opening on Monday September 14 at Gulf Photo Plus, ‘Her’ presents a series of frank photographs of women in various moments of their lives, in spaces from workplaces to houses. Through her work, Gattoni has encountered thousands of women, from war refugees in Kenya and cluster bomb victims in Laos to tsunami survivors in Indonesia. ‘These women are the reason I keep doing this fabulous but draining job,’ she says. ‘They have taught me to be courageous, to keep strong and pursue my path no
Despite their very different backgrounds and cultures, Gattoni says all of the women share an innate capacity for resilience and courage, no matter what difficulties they’ve faced. ‘Although shunned and marginalised in many countries, they are often the hidden backbone of families and communities. This exhibition is a tribute to their bravery and capacity to deal with apparently insurmountable challenges, be they war, natural calamity, or the prejudices that exist within their own society. “Her” is an ode to all of these women,’ Gattoni explains.
The women in the photographs appear undeterred by the circumstances they have endured. Presenting each image, Gattoni gives viewers a glimpse of life in societies that go largely unreported.
Artist: Matilde Gattoni
When: September 14-October 31. Gulf Photo Plus, Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz (04 380 8545).
More: At the gallery on September 16 at 7pm, the artist will discuss the series and take questions from attendees.
‘On December 26, 2004 a tsunami devastated the Indian Ocean shores. The Indonesian province of Aceh was the hardest hit. The wave destroyed 800km of coastline, wiping out entire families and villages. A few months after, Médecins sans Frontières sent me to Sigli, a village in Aceh. I was working on the psychological impact of the tsunami and the decade-long civil war. One day, I went to the beach looking for surfers who were in the ocean the day of the tsunami. I saw two friends approaching the sea hand-in-hand, suddenly one of them let go and entered the sea, the waves were coming and she started laughing. I was moved by her strength and resilience. Despite all the horror she had been through, she was standing in the ocean defying the waves on her own.’
‘In Koderma the majority of people are landless peasants. During the rainy season, the only way for them to survive is to work as daily labourers in farms or to take up loans from the agents and repay them when the mining season starts again. Given their meagre earnings, most of the miners become de-facto bonded labourers unable to end their cycle of debt, which is often passed from parent to child. Here, several women work in the scenic mine of Doda Cola, a huge grey crater lost amid the tropical forests near Domchanch.’
‘A Somali mother who has just arrived in Dadaab is building her family tent on the outskirts of the refugee camp. Dadaab hosts people who have fled various conflicts in the larger Eastern Africa region. Most have come as a consequence of the civil war in southern Somalia and drought, due to climate change.’
‘Yemen is enduring a water crisis that ranks among the worst in the world. Farmers are collecting the harvest of the day. Having one of the world’s highest birth rates, the country’s water supply system is failing to keep pace with its ever-increasing population. Sana’a may run out of water in a decade. Very few Yemeni farmers still grow traditional crops, most have switched to qat which is much more profitable.’
‘Fulanti Ahir, aged 60, is a retired tea garden worker at Red Bank Tea Estate, in the Dooars region in India. She started working in the tea gardens with her parents when she was 11 years old. “At that time, everything was good. We had enough money, clothes and rations,” says Ahir. Five years ago when the garden closed, her 30-year-old-son Krisha Ahir decided to emigrate in order to support his one-year-old son and his ageing parents. He was supposed to go to the state of Haryana to work in a poultry farm but soon after he reached there he disappeared. His parents haven’t had any news of him for the past four years.’