Children in Global Migrations
The growing reality of movement across borders has become a twenty-first-century theme and increasingly a focus for the anxieties and uncertainties about change in our time. When it is paired with children, its potential as a modern form of brutality becomes an almost irresistible excuse for sadness and poignant reflection. The Brazilian photo-journalist Sabastiâo Salgado is hardly alone in reaping the emotional and aesthetic harvest of this theme, but his moving exhibit “Migrations: Humanity in Transition—The Children,” provides an exceptionally vivid perspective on this issue.
At the Berkeley Art Museum, one of the stops the exhibit made in 2002, it was seen by thousands of people. The normally empty exhibit spaces were jammed and extra galleries were opened to accommodate the huge range of his photographic record as he toured the world through the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the many parts of Asia to observe children, willingly and unwillingly on the move (mostly the latter). Here is a quote from the pamphlet that accompanied the exhibit: “In every crisis situation—whether war, poverty, or natural disaster—children are the greatest victims. The weakest physically, they are invariably the first to succumb to disease or starvation. Emotionally vulnerable, they are unable to understand why they are being forced from their homes, why their neighbors have turned against them, why they are now in a slum surrounded by filth or in a refugee camp and surrounded by sorrow. With no responsibility for their fates, they are by definition innocent.”1
They are usually also the most attractive of their species and, however much they may be hostages to fate, their attractiveness is very effectively manipulated by the photographer toward his many purposes. I will argue later that children are hardly entirely victims or entirely innocent, but for now, I want to claim for them the aesthetic appeal of which Salgado and all those gathered to see his work were undoubtedly deeply aware. In today's PR world, where the image often becomes the reality, it is appropriate for us to begin with the images that Salgado, among others, has