Martim Meirelles: Mozambique: A Portrait of an Orphan Nation
I had the great pleasure to be the 2017 juror of the SOHO Photo Gallery’s National Photography Competition. The exhibition opens today, with an official opening tomorrow night from 6-8pm which I will happily be attending. After considering over 2,000 photographs, I had to select 40 that would hang on the gallery walls, not an easy task. Portuguese-American photographer Martim Meirelles submitted several compelling photographs and I selected the image above as 1st Place Winner. The photograph had a visual complexity and unique beauty–a visual narrative that didn’t give away the ending. Today I’m sharing the work that Martim created while volunteering at an orphanage in the town of Mumemo, Mozambique.
Martim Meirelles (b. 1993) is a Portuguese-American artist from New York City working primarily in the medium of photography. He received his BA from the University of Miami in 2015, graduating with a dual-degree in Art and Psychology. Although he photographs mainly in the digital format, Meirelles, enamored of black-and-white images and the wistful feelings they evoke, continues to shoot film.
Inspired by the ardent resolve displayed by the pioneers of social documentary photography as they shed light on the most marginalized and alienated populations, Meirelles strives to make images that illuminate both the beauty and battle of the human condition. In 2014, he was selected by Arte Institute to participate in an artist residency program in which he lived in the small coastal fishing town of Nazaré, documenting the lives and fading traditions of this historic Portuguese fishing community. The images created during this residency were the subject of his first solo exhibition, Nazaré: Beyond the Wave, which opened in 2015.
Meirelles’ work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in several galleries including the CAS Gallery, Coral Gables, FL, Chelsea Art Tower, New York, NY, IMT Gallery, London, U.K., and Galeria Paul Girol, Nazaré, Portugal. His second solo exhibition opens July 2017 in Maputo and will feature a series of portraits Meirelles made during the eleven months he spent volunteering at an orphanage in Mozambique. Meirelles currently lives and works in New York.
Mozambique: A Portrait of an Orphan Nation
At first glance Mozambique appears to be the ultimate sub-Saharan utopia, boasting an idyllic coastline with endless palm-fringed beaches, crystal clear waters and lush mangrove forests. But beyond this seemingly enchanting getaway lies a tremendously dark and tumultuous history – one marred by four hundred years of Portuguese colonial rule, a bloody sixteen-year civil war, tragic floods, widespread famine and perpetual political unrest.
Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique has struggled to obtain economic, social and political stability and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. With nearly two-thirds of its population currently living below the poverty line, illiteracy at an alarming forty-five percent, a generalized HIV/AIDS epidemic and an orphan population of 2.1 million children, it has become increasingly evident that, generations later, Mozambicans are still suffering the adverse effects of their country’s calamitous past.
In 2016, I had the unique opportunity to spend eleven months volunteering at an orphanage in the town of Mumemo, working closely alongside three hundred orphaned children. Run by the Franciscan Hospitaller Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, this orphanage provides the most vulnerable children with access to basic human needs such as clean water, nutrition, health and education. My ongoing project, Mozambique: A Portrait of an Orphan Nation, provides an up-close and unembellished look at this nation’s ever-growing orphan population as they aim to break free of the detrimental cycle of poverty and finally establish dominion over their futures. Through the haunting beauty of these children’s gazes, I wish to create a dialogue between the past, present and hopeful future of this young nation.
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The Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Photographic PortraitureSeptember 27th, 2020