Born Into Brothels, Children Make Art From Squalor


Art resides in us all but often gets exorcised early by the gods of “making a living.” Yet when the very idea of a straight job seems a hopeless mirage, as in Calcutta’s hellish red-light district, where generations of prostitutes and their violent, sometimes murderous pimps make their homes, art can be a miraculous escape. The photographs in this show were taken by the subjects of the Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels, the sons and daughters of India’s
scorned sex workers. Sophisticated in their use of focus, composition, and color, these pictures are brimming with emotion; some are unrelentingly bleak—11-year-old Puja frames a gloomy animal cage through a blurry crosshatch of chain-link fence—while others are illuminated by the ingenuous smiles of children transported, however fleetingly, through the magic of the viewfinder. Tapasi, also 11, dances and beams in her own
Self Portrait. In the hands of these children, the camera tells matter-of-fact tales of a dangerous and vibrant world. As Gour, a 13-year-old boy, says, “I want to show in pictures how people live in this city. I want to put across the behavior of man.”

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