“That bench is her room.”



This image is from a photographic slideshow called Planet Slum on the website/magazine, Foreign Policy.  From the article:


Norwegian photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen spent six weeks living in the slums of Nairobi, then Caracas, Mumbai, and Jakarta. His remarkable panoramic images take us inside slum families’ lives, revealing the profound human impulse to fashion not only shelter but a home.


This particular image caught my eye because of its accompanying text (by Christina Larson):


View from her bench: Along the rail line that runs through central Jakarta, Indonesia, a woman named Subur and her then 9-month-old son, Subeki, live on a bench with a makeshift covering. "That’s the one room I photographed that is not an interior setting," Bendiksen says. "That bench is her room. I tried to capture the view down the street from the bench where she lives."


The idea of an outdoor bench functioning as a bedroom is such an alien concept to most Americans, and yet, that is the reality of this woman’s life.  I’d be curious to see these photographs as the artist says he prefers them to be installed: projected life-size onto the four walls of a room.  It is much easier to escape from an uncomfortable image when you can click the mouse and move on to something else.  In a room installation, the visual imagery wouldn’t let us off the hook quite that easily, although we still would have the luxury of walking out of the room, an option that this woman and her child do not have. 


But just because we are a wealthy nation doesn’t mean we are immune from poverty.  How many Americans live in conditions where they have a bench for a room/home?  This might not seem like it has much to do with Native American issues, but considering that most of the poorest areas in the U.S. are on reservations, I think it relates.  An article by Peter Carlson that appeared in The Washington Post in 1997 says:


“The country’s 2.1 million Indians, about 400,000 of whom live on reservations, have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment and disease of any ethnic group in America.”      


I can’t say what the percentages are now, over ten years after that sentence was written, but it seems doubtful that life has managed to drastically improve for that many people so quickly (and especially with the recent economic turmoil).  


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