Through Their Eyes

A few years ago, while in Washington, DC, I met a young photographer named Shawn Davis at a showing of some of his work shot in Cuba. It was the first time I ever bought a work of art directly from the artist, and, I believe, the first time I ever bought a photographic work of art (posters and museum prints in my younger days don’t count). Periodically I receive an email from Shawn and I am pleased to share with you news of his latest project — Visual Griots of Mali: African Children Tell Their Stories with Cameras. I have seen some of the childrens’ work online and I also bought the Spring 2006 issue of African Arts (published by The James S. Coleman African Studies Center, UCLA International Institute) that has a feature story about the project with wonderful accompanying photos, but this is an exhibit that I wish I could see in person.

(Actually, to be perfectly honest, this is the sort of project with which I wish I could be personally involved. To empower young people to share their stories and viewpoints — well, you can easily see that it’s an ideal quite compatible with my penchant for biography, especially those of the “less than famous.”)

Visual Griots of Mali
is the result of a project in which U.S. and Malian photographers helped the youth of the country create their own photographic documents of their lives. If you are in DC on Saturday, February 24 do yourself a favor and join Shawn at the National Museum of Natural History (Baird Auditorium) where at 12:00 noon he will not only introduce this landmark exhibition, but also screen the short film Malick SidibĂ©: Portrait of the Artist as a Portraitist (2006, 8 minutes). Here’s an excerpt from Shawn’s email:

This event, free and open to the public, is an opportunity to celebrate the enormous success of the 22 young students in Mali, West Africa …This will be a great chance to hear updates on how the photographs were received in Mali, what the local communities have to say about the project, how local DC area youth have been involved in the project, and what the President of Mali had to say about it all!! I’ll be giving a lecture that I promise will be full of fun photos and video footage. We hope to see you there. Please share this with your friends, family, and colleagues. The lecture hall is right next to the exhibit, so if you haven’t seen the show yet you can do both in one shot.

And if you can’t make the opening event, you have until April 27th to view the exhibit at the Smithsonian — then it’s on to Kansas City.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Academy for Educational Development and NMNH Office of Visitor and School Services.

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