Ballet in Kibera' is an exhibition of photographs taken by Sarah Waiswa and Fredrik Lerneryd. The photographers took photos of the ballet programme run by Anno’s Africa and One Fine Day during their rehearsals and their performances.
In one photograph, a girl in a self-assured poise looks away from the camera. She is poised as if in between dance moves, and as if the rest of the world given the chance to look at her only through the photographer’s lens does not matter at all.
“I was really interested in photographing the girls in such a way that I was able to somewhat document this transformation that I could see happening as they were dancing. As they were dancing there was this confidence, this moment where nothing really mattered except them kind of expressing themselves through dance,” says Ms. Waiswa.
One challenge in photography, especially that of people with disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, is that those photographed often lose agency over their stories.
Ms Waiswa and Mr Lerneryd negotiate this by centring the children through their I-am-in-charge gazes and their focus on the dancing in spite of other people.
In one photograph, five children lie on the ground in a seemingly impossible pose in which they curve their bodies almost into circles. Their prominence in the up-close photograph makes it seem like they could dance out of the print and into where you as the observer are standing in Alliance Francaise.
“I was just focusing on trying to capture that freedom or ability to express but in addition just to capture the elegance and their steps and their dedication and commitment in spite of obviously the room that the ballet was taking place in or the surroundings which really kind of was a juxtaposition to what was really happening in the room,” says Ms Waiswa whose background in sociology and psychology informs her photography.
New Kibera story
While appreciating the socioeconomic challenges communities living in informal settlements face, the artists also hope that the exhibition complicates the stories often told about them.
“When people often talk about Kibera or an informal settlement, most of the time it is negative. It is stories of poverty and extremes basically. For me, this was a positive story that is not common and that would likely be unshared,” says Ms. Waiswa. “Sometimes, when you look at the narrative of Africa the images that you see are very similar and so it is nice to be able to share positive things even though that is probably not what people are expecting from that particular place,” she adds.
For Ms Waiswa and Mr Lerneryd, what inspired the exhibition was a desire to highlight what the arts programmes were doing even outside of the ballet.
Additionally, they wanted to raise funds for the arts centre which Annos Africa and One Fine Day is building in Kibera. All the proceeds from the sales of the prints will go directly towards helping build the arts centre.
This is especially important because since their meteoric rise to popularity, the images of these children have sometimes been used commercially without compensation to them or their program.
“I think the arts centre will be a positive thing. Art is very important especially for children as a means to express themselves and as an alternative and just to give them that ability to be able to be creative if that is what they want,” says Ms. Waiswa
She adds, “Having the profits go to Annos is the least that I could do to actualise this project that could have an impact on the lives of many children that are living in that area and for me I think that is the beauty of art: if you can use art to help create change.”
Apart from an undaunted confidence, the photographs present many temperaments of children. For instance, a girl who has her hands clasped behind her betraying the shyness and vulnerability of children. In yet another photograph, two girls who hold their clothes, presumably having just changed for dance class, something that reminds me of the playfulness and excitement before P.E. lessons. Above them, what looks like a suggestion box has on it the words “Ni Siri Yetu.” This secret is one more way in which the children assert that they are telling their own stories and only letting you see as much as they would like.