Photography at the Oriental Museum
Did you have a happy childhood? Whatever you did, were you aware that you were experiencing a time that allowed you to indulge craving for play and exploration, free from the burdens of adult responsibility? I believe the defined transitions towards adulthood in this country are taken very much for granted.
This was brought home by the Oriental Museum’s latest photography exhibition, “Can we play now?”, a poignant insight into the lives of children in Asia. What is immediately striking about this exhibition is the sense that there is no protective barrier separating the children from adult cares and obligations. Children as young as six are seen helping their parents to earn a living, already immersed in the culture of service and commerce. Especially heart-touching are the poignant images of young girls made up as dancers and showpieces for the benefit of tourists, seeing their role not as fantasy play but a duty for their family.
Where play is allowed, it is often modelled on the livelihoods the children are expected to take up in the future; a striking example is the image of two boys playing with a model plough, one yoked into the role of the ox. One shudders slightly at the unsuitability of the objects available as toys. Hauntingly, a boy happily playing with a machete knife presents a stark contrast to the plush, intensely health and safety regulated items that are approved as playthings in Britain.
However, the photographs do not just prompt feelings of shock or an uneasy guilt. There are some beautifully evocative images that capture the agricultural feel of the land. In particular, my favourite image was that of a young boy walking through rice paddy fields to collect the family cows. Despite the size of the livestock, a real sense of peace is conveyed by the scene. No pressure, no enforced career aspirations, no impending struggle with striving and exams; just a young boy engaged in his task of quietly bringing home these gentle animals while the sun slips down to end another day. I urge you to take the opportunity to view this observant collection, whether to gain an insight into another culture or to ponder on your own childhood memories.