An exhibition of photographs of children that has been called thought-provoking — although the harder edged 'provocative' might be more apt — will open soon at Whangārei Art Museum.

Where Children Sleep (Whangārei Art Museum, from Saturday, August 31 to December 1) is by international photographer James Mollison, showing photos of children from different countries and their bedrooms, or in some cases what passes as a room. The project was aided by Save the Children Italy.

A child's bedroom says a lot about who they are, what they play with and how they spend their time. Just as strongly, Mollison's haunting images say a lot about the world these young subjects live in, whether in a state of privilege or deprivation.

As if the portraits of children and the place they call their room do not say enough, each photo is accompanied with an essay telling more.

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Among them is Kaya, aged 4, in Tokyo, who has a bedroom lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and toys. She has more than 30 dresses and pairs of shoes, and numerous wigs. Her mother spends $(US)1000 a month on the girl's clothes.

Erlen, 14, lives in a favela, a slum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She's pregnant for the third time, having given birth to a stillborn baby when she was 12, then a baby who died soon after birth. She usually sleeps on the floor, but in late stage pregnancy her mother lets her have the bed.

A 9-year-old boy on the Ivory Coast has to remain anonymous because, as a former child-soldier from Liberia, he has a price on his head. His room is a small concrete shack shared with other orphans from his school.

Lay Lay, 4, lives in in a Thai orphanage with 21 other preschool aged children. She and her mother, of the Karen people, ran from Myanmar to seek asylum in north Thailand, but the mother died soon after. Little is known about Lay Lay whose bedroom is one of two rooms in the orphanage where furniture is pushed aside at night and the children sleep on mats on the floor.

A Romanian Gypsy boy, 4, sleeps with his family on a filthy mattress on rough ground outside Rome, Italy. They travelled to Rome after begging in the streets for the bus fare. His parents have no documents so can't work legally. No one in the family has been to school or learned to read or write.

There are happy children and more fortunate lives in Where Children Sleep, but it is essentially is a powerful picture of inequality, starkly portrayed.

As the children stare back at the viewer - in perhaps defiance, innocence, courage, fear, even curiosity - there is much to evoke discomfort. More than voyeurism alone, is it a perhaps the discomfort of being part of the exploitative forces on these children?
- Lindy Laird

Indira, 7, in Nepal, has worked in a quarry with the rest of her family since she was 3 years old.
Indira, 7, in Nepal, has worked in a quarry with the rest of her family since she was 3 years old.
Ahkōhxet, 8, is from the Kraho tribe of fewer than 200 people in Brazil's Amazon basin.
Ahkōhxet, 8, is from the Kraho tribe of fewer than 200 people in Brazil's Amazon basin.
Joey, 11, lives in Kentucky, USA, and has two shotguns and crossbow for hunting with his father. Joey's family eat what they hunt, and he doesn't believe in killing animals just for fun.
Joey, 11, lives in Kentucky, USA, and has two shotguns and crossbow for hunting with his father. Joey's family eat what they hunt, and he doesn't believe in killing animals just for fun.
Kaya, 4, in Tokyo, who has a bedroom lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and toys.
Kaya, 4, in Tokyo, who has a bedroom lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and toys.