For over several months, Cultural Canvas Thailand and Grandma Cares worked together in organizing a series of photography workshops teaching the Grandma Cares children basic photographic technique. This collaboration resulted in the exhibition, “Where I Belong,” which documented the lives of these children of whom come from a family affected by HIV/AIDS. The 12 photographers, aged 10-16, have been taken under the care of their grandparents. Although the shape of each child’s family has changed, they continue to cherish those closest to them. The children explored how to express abstract concepts such as “family” through this visual medium, and were asked to photograph what “family” means to them. Armed with a camera and roll of film, each child created their own definition of family. The resulting exhibition included over 30 photographs, a snapshot into each child’s life, their perception of family, and a world shaped by difficult life experiences. The photographs depicted both the places and people that contribute to their sense of belonging.
In addition to the photographs, the Cultural Canvas Team and local artists created “The Family Tree.” An 8-foot tree was constructed to portray what family means to the Children at Grandma Cares and symbolized how their perceptions of family are all different yet come from the same roots. Gold leaves were added by the kids of Grandma Cares, revealing what family means to them by writing words on the leaves expressing ideas of belonging. Viewers of the exhibition were invited to add their own leaf to the tree and write on it what family means to them. Red leaves were hung on the silver tree, symbolizing those who are or have been personally affected by HIV/AIDS. A giant mirror was also displayed with information about HIV/AIDS in Thailand. This encouraged audiences to read about HIV/AIDS while looking at their own reflection, addressing the fact that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate or remain in any specific group of people. It touches us all, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic status.
More than a hundred people attended the opening reception of “Where I Belong.” Following the opening, we moved the exhibition to Think Park where numerous shoppers of Nimmahamin Road stopped by to look at the photos. After one week at Think Park, the exhibition was moved to the International Schools in the surrounding area. Kids at the schools eagerly added their thoughts on family to “The Family Tree.” The tree grew and grew.
The goals of the exhibition were met with the successful introduction of the Grandma Cares children to the greater Chiang Mai community and the funds raised to sponsor more children. The children's documentation also raised awareness about the effect HIV/AIDS has on families, and how often this population is overlooked. The success of the exhibition and our realized goals are evidence that art is a powerful medium for change. Art serves as a catalyst to bring all populations of people together, regardless of gender, race, or age.
Thank you to all who contributed and went to the exhibition. We could not have done it without your support. Thank you Wad, P'Ben and everyone else who helped move the enormous and heavy "Family Tree" to each site (I am sure you will all be happy once it finds its permanent home). Thank you to the CCT team who worked long hours and weekends setting up, taking down, and setting back up the exhibition. Thank you to the International Schools who hosted the exhibition and were incredibly welcoming. And a special thanks to Grandma Cares and the kids whose creativity in photography and dedication made this exhibition happen.