Yesterday, I attended the opening of a an art exhibit named “We were there too…”. The exhibit is part of a larger initiative working for child rights and specifically focusing on street orphans – the street children, homeless, orphaned, or not necessarily either but left to fend for themselves on the street by their parents or guardians – and the violations to which they have been subjected and brutalities that they have endured since the January 25 revolution. So far, there have been 200 documented cases of arrests and detentions of children by the military police; labeled as “thugs”, they have been beaten, electrocuted, molested, and imprisoned in adult facilities; some have been tried in court-martial and received prison sentences, which they are serving at maximum security adult prisons.
The exhibit showcases artwork by 20 of those children that is the result of an outreach workshop. The amazing drawings depict their impressions and perceptions of the revolution and subsequent events and clashes, which they have witnessed and experienced as part of their life on the street. For the opening, the artist children were there to interact with the visitors and media and talk about their work, shy to varying degrees and at the same time enjoying the attention. Equally amazing and striking as the artwork itself are the captions to the drawings, which are verbatim transcriptions of the children’s descriptions of their drawings.
Those standing on the roof are the snipers. The ones standing on the street the revolutionaries. The snipers are firing the ammo.
The circles underneath them because they are peeing in their pants.
They won’t be able to go back down, they are afraid of the people.
Ezzat, 13 years old
Personally, I am generally always a bit skeptical about the genuineness of similar children’s artwork: it comes as a result of a workshop that directs the creative process, and children are impressionable, they want to please, they want to show and tell us what they think we want to see and hear. But even with that skepticism factored in, you wouldn’t be anything but humbled and impressed by the experiences of these children, how they perceive their cruel reality and events around them and the way they express and depict those. The highlight of the exhibit was a short play in the nearby theatre space by the children, where they acted out “Scenes from the Street”; they acted, sang, danced aspects of their daily struggles and experiences on the street and in their homes. And it was so moving and bitter-sweet to see how much they relished and enjoyed the attention and limelight; may we always have the compassion, energy, and resources to keep them there – or at least to give them some strength and confidence to forgive and overcome their cruel reality from which we as a society could not save them.
- Manadeel Waraq is Arabic for “paper tissues”: “Manadeel waraq… we use them once and throw them away carrying our dreck in the nearest trash bin. Much like the street child who sells them in traffic light stops, frail and yet carrying the burden of all our flaws and shortcomings as a society”. Contact Manadeel Waraq if you wish to make a donation, support them, or simply learn more about the initiative.
- “We were there too…” opens till May 2 in the Townhouse Gallery, drawings by the children are for sale to support the initiative.