Roger Ballen’s Photographs at UNESCO, Beirut Advocate Support for SOS Children’s Villages

At first glance Roger Ballen’s photographs appear to be bleak portrayals of disheveled and menacing surroundings. His black and white photographs are filled with lost and battered toys, graffiti, tangled wires, old furniture, and individuals dressed in worn clothing seemingly at home amidst the other displaced objects. Part of Ballen’s most recent body of work the images in “Boarding House” depict the human state of misery. Yet even in their condition of angst and sadness, his photographs uncover an imaginative charm; where there is misery Ballen sees beauty and human potential.

These powerful works are part of an exhibition currently on view at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon to support SOS Children’s Villages, a child’s charity which aims to provide a stable home, family and community environment for children who have been orphaned, abused or abandoned from a proper upbringing. Works from “Boarding House” are on show in Beirut after previous displays in Salzburg and Berlin. They are exhibited in a joint initiative between the Lebanese Association of SOS Children’s Villages and Ubuntu, a project based in the Austrian city Imst where the philanthropist Hermann Gmeiner first founded SOS Children’s Villages in 1949 which advocates for children’s rights through art. “Ubuntu” is derived from a Zulu word which means “mutual respect.” Such an initiative emphasizes the power of creativity to enliven a child’s imagination and foster positive participation in their local society. Similarly guests to such an exhibition are encouraged to engage in the issues and concerns of childhood through the creative lens of arts and culture.

SOS Children’s Villages is an international non-governmental social development organization which is now active in the promotion of children’s rights and needs in 438 villages in 132 countries. Founded in 1964, the Lebanese Association of SOS Children’s Villages provides families for 2500 children each year. The children are given a home, a mother, and siblings regardless of religion, culture, and race and educated to become a positive force in their communities.

The event also celebrated the arrival of SOS-Kinderdorf International President Helmut Kutin. President Kutin expressed his support for the exhibition and emphasized the extraordinary work of SOS Children’s Villages stating how the world, and childhood in particular, is full of abject poverty and miserable conditions but how we must continue to advocate for the absolute right of the child to have equal chances. President Kutin was born in Bolzano, Italy and was admitted to the world’s first SOS Children’s Village in Imst, Austria in 1953 following a family tragedy.

Roger Ballen has photographed children in states of poverty for most of his career. Without much love or physical possessions what these children did have was their ability to dream. The children in Roger Ballen’s grim images perform; they created the imaginative and mysterious settings which take place in each of Ballen’s photographs. Their enactments became the humanistic thread which captivates and charms the viewer. Their miserable surroundings hold hope and beauty.

Roger Ballen’s “Boarding House” is on view at UNESCO in Beirut through March 13th.

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