The “Starving African Child” and the Pornography of Poverty

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The iconic image of the starving African child is a familiar symbol which appears prominently in the above images from a campaign by the development organization Save the Children. The photos both share a compelling yet controversial characteristic- the use of images of poverty that are pornographic in their portrayal. The pornography of poverty relates to forms of humanitarian communication which use images that focus on extreme exposure of both misery and the body to illustrate suffering. As evidenced in both photos, it involves the construction of images which create a representation that is the epitome of misfortune. While these images are often effective in creating the shock effect that is necessary to elicit donations, they are often denounced for their demeaning portrayals and the meanings they create.

Development media which depend on the pornography of poverty is frequently criticized for putting “people’s bodies, their misery… on display with…all the indiscretion that telescopic lens will allow” (Lissner, 1981). In both of the featured images, one thing is striking- the utter despondency of the children. This is what is capitalized upon and projected. The composition of the images, particularly the focus on the eyes of the children is meant to convey only their misery. The subjects have been stripped of any form of identity and are simply portrayed as symbolic representations of squalor. They are not given a voice. We cannot begin to know their stories or who they are. Yet, we are privy to their vulnerability, seeing them naked in every sense. The emphasis on the body is clear in both images as the children have been photographed practically naked so that viewers can be disconcerted by images of their malnourished bodies. Additionally, the photos encourage an intrusion into their delicate feelings of pain and hopelessness through the image of their tears. These types of representations simply instigate hollow pity, not empathy, understanding or definitive action.

Another fundamental constraint of this form of Humanitarian Communication is that its “simplistic messages foster racist stereotypes… and encourage prejudice.” (Sankore, 2005). Images such as these which feature sick, hungry children have become the quintessential representation of suffering and have historically been related to the proverbial “starving children of Africa” who we were constantly reminded of when we failed to finish our dinner. With the continuous manipulation of the image of the African child in fund raising campaigns, it is no surprise that most people have come to associate the continent with famine, disease and desolation. This is exactly what both images seek to capture. These demeaning representations echo racist and colonialist notions about Africa, developing an inherent image of Africans as a people who are in need of the generosity and competence of the west. Thus, alleviating poverty in Africa has become the modern day ‘Whiteman’s burden’ and in many instances people contribute simply out of obligation or an attempt to assuage their own conscience, rather than a genuine desire to make worthwhile contributions.

Furthermore, academics argue that these representations essentially “promote an extremely shallow understanding of the forces that produce and sustain poverty… and focus attention on the victims of poverty rather than the political forces behind it” (Cameron and Haanstra, 2008). The selected images from the Save The Children campaign are a prime example of this. Both images simply seek to illicit donations, and create an impression that these contributions are all that is necessary. Neither of them offer any hint as to the possible causes or root of the children’s impoverished position. Unfortunately, the stark reality is that aid often cannot begin to address critical aspects of poverty such as political and economic instability. A donation of £2 may feed one child today, but in the bigger picture, it is a mere droplet in an ocean of suffering so vast that it cannot be fathomed by the distant, well- meaning spectator. As a result, generous viewers may give small donations, but there is little effort to fully explore or address the underlying causes of poverty and to find sustainable methods of fostering change. Essentially, this breeds a dependence on aid and can be considered to be more detrimental in the long run.

In conclusion, we must consider where we draw the line between representing images of poverty and constructing them. Images create meaning, and development practitioners must be conscious of the underlying meanings they construct. It remains important to consider a photograph’s long term implications for the people it strives to represent. Are these images justified when the trickle of donations they garner will never be sufficient to address a problem which can only be resolved with sustainable solutions?

References

Cameron, J. & Haanstra, A. (2008). ‘Development Made Sexy: how it happened and what it means’. Third World Quarterly, 29(98), pp. 1475-1489.

Lissner, J. (1981), ‘Merchants of Misery’. [online] New Internationalist Magazine. Available at: http://newint.org/features/1981/06/01/merchants-of-misery/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2016].

Sankore, R. (2005). ‘The Pitfalls and Consequences of Development ‘Pornography‘. [online] Global Envision. Available at: http://www.globalenvision.org/library/8/766 [Accessed 12 Feb. 2016].

 

 

 

2014 National Awards of Excellence Feature Address- Amanie Mathurin

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Earlier this year I had the (accidental) honour of delivering the Feature Address at the 2014 National Awards of Excellence where I was also awarded for Outstanding Performance at Cambridge. I call it an “accidental” honour because half an hour before the ceremony I was called upon to fill in for the designated speaker who was unable to fulfill his duty due to very unfortunate circumstances. The  plan was to use a speech I had previously delivered. However I was not too excited about presenting something that had already been heard…and something that did not appear perfectly aligned with the event….Hence I found myself frantically scribbling during the ceremony trying to see what inspiring words I could come up with in 20 minutes. Although it is clearly not my best work… I decided to post it because I believe that the overall message of the speech is worth sharing.

“Excellence is not born… it is nurtured.  Indeed many persons who have excelled in their respective fields, often identify common elements in their recipe for success- dedication, self-motivation, the will to persevere against the odds.
Today is indeed a remarkable day. On a regular basis, we are greeted by the unfortunate highlights, examining the negative circumstances and concerns of our youth. We are saddened by the continuous laments regarding unemployment figures and staggering statistics of youth violence. However, today we seek to place the spotlight on more positive aspects of our nation’s youth. We honour their achievements… we praise their success.  Events such as the National Awards of Excellence are indeed one of the most anticipated occasions on our nation’s calendar of activities. It allows us to appreciate the abundance of talent which flourishes across our nation.
As I look around this venue filled with youthful exuberance, I see the shadows of future leaders… I hear the whispers of those who will soon develop our great country. Consequently, I believe that I would not have adequately fulfilled my role as feature speaker today if I did not directly address these budding leaders. Students, young individuals of the audience, the youth of our beloved Saint Lucia, I say to you, learn by the example of the greatest ones but do not be afraid to set your own example. It does not hurt to study the methods of those who have excelled before you. However, we are not all the same. We respond differently, we learn through various measures. As such, never force yourself to fit into a mold that has been cast by another. Tailor your suit of excellence so that it is your own.
My further advice is that while you tread the path to success, never be discouraged by the obstacles in your way. Do not let the stumbling blocks hinder you from your dreams. Instead use these blocks to build a strong and solid foundation of success.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I cast a further glance around this room I am filled with a deep sense of pride and honour. Yes, it is indeed an honour to be in the company of individuals who have attained such levels of success.  From our young students, to our distinguished Nobel laureate, this room is filled with the brilliant jewels of Fair Helen’s crown. As a result, I am convinced that there could be no occasion more fitting, no audience more appropriate , to declare my next statement. While we gather occasionally to applaud the achievements of our young people this is not always adequate. Among the many things that our youth are in need of, is a strong support system. Our young persons must know that while we urge them to succeed, if they happen to fail on their journey, we will not abandon them at their time of greatest need. We need to ensure that we provide the relevant organization that can provide support and encouragement to our young people. These institutions must be visible and active within schools and communities. However, individual efforts often make all the difference. I therefore urge each of you to make the pledge to play your part. Lay your brick in the wall of reinforcement that we strive to build around our nation’s youth.  Provide the social inclusion that is necessary for our young persons to feel secure and appreciated. Ensure that you have made your contribution towards providing the right conditions that will encourage our youth to continue to excel.
As I come to the end of this address, I wish to congratulate all the awardees. I encourage you all to continue in this vein of excellence. I also wish to thank you all for setting this wonderful example. We thank you for carving an admirable path that other young persons can aspire to tread. To close, I encourage you all to promise yourself to nurture the excellence that lives within you. Be strong and resolute enough to assert your identity in a world that will seek to bend you into its mold.  Do not be misled by the allure of materialism. Do not be blinded by the thirst for wealth. Rather, aspire to accumulate knowledge, for this is the true measure of a man’s wealth. Sing your individual song of success as you continue in your pursuit of excellence.”

Juliet’s Woe | Short Film | 2013

Written By : Amanie Mathurin
Directed/Edited By: Pierre Chester

This was my first attempt at something in this field. It was quite a challenge but accepting it allowed me to test the boundaries of my creativity. Although I had doubts at first…. when I finally decided to actually start drafting… I could not stop… It all just seemed to flow so easily…naturally… There were even moments where I had to struggle to keep up with the thoughts spinning in my head… It was almost as if the scenes were playing themselves out in my mind….as if the story was fighting to be told…
I think the most fascinating part was seeing the end result. Having a vision…. reading it on paper… seeing it on film…these are all very different concepts. It was a wonderful feeling seeing my vision actually  represented. It was interesting to see the result of someone else’s vision… hard work.. talent all mixed with mine. It was also very encouraging to work with such a great team… Every aspect seemed so well executed… the directing…editing… and especially the music. The music was indeed  my favourite part. I felt that the songs chosen reflected the feelings I had toward the script…. they mirrored the themes and emotions of the idea. What was even more exciting was seeing the feedback we received. During the initial stages… I would have never even imagined that we could get such a response. It has generated so many positive responses online… and it has all been so encouraging. Seeing people’s comments about how intrigued they were… how emotional the film made them…and how deeply it made them think and feel… I honestly felt that I had fulfilled  my purpose….
      I am happy that I now have something to look back on to help me measure my strengths and weaknesses…. I am surely a long way from where I want to be as a writer… but this is a wonderful place to start. It also serves as proof of what I can accomplish and that greater things are in store. If I had let my insecurity and doubts serve as a hindrance… I would never have been able to explore this new avenue. I would have never found out that this is something I want to pursue…. that this is a talent I want to nurture… For years I had been focused on my dreams of publishing novels… it had never crossed my mind that there is so much more out there… so many other avenues I can venture into. Of course I am still holding onto my dreams of producing best sellers…. but it does not hurt to know that my talent could lead me into even more exciting territory… Perhaps careers await in Film or Television…or both

🙂 Here’s to big dreams *cheers*