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Photo exhibition of women stirs emotions, conscience

For The Oklahoman
Modified: April 26, 2013 at 6:16 pm •  Published: April 26, 2013

The faces are almost as striking — and challenging — as the stories told, in only a few words, underneath them, in a show of photos of women and girls around the world by Phil Borges at the University of Oklahoma.

The “Stirring the Fire: A Global Movement to Empower Women and Girls” exhibit is made up of photographs done with skin tones in muted color and backgrounds in black-and-white, sometimes in a double format.

Sponsored by World Literature Today in conjunction with the OU literary magazine’s 2013 Puterbaugh Festival, which was held April 9-12, the show runs through July 28 at Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 Elm Ave., Norman

Meeting our eyes steadily, her chin resting on one hand, in front of the rubble of an old building and a sunlit mountain range, a thoughtful girl in war-torn Afghanistan, seems much older and wiser than her 11 years.

An apparently handwritten text beneath the haunting image informs us that the girl, whose name is Humaria, “sells eggs as a street vender” in the country where only half of “children ages 7 to 13 attend school.”

Holding our attention just as forcefully are the eyes of Augustina, a 13-year-old, balancing a machete on top of her head in a statuesque pose, in front of a cornfield in Ghana, where the text tells us heavy logging has damaged crops.

Equally hard not to meet are the eyes of an 80-year-old woman, standing quietly behind a mud wall in a Ghana village, where we are told things are changing due to the work of a “women’s savings and credit group.”

Standing with a long stave, sentinel-like, in a road where two children are walking, is a 50-year-old Ethiopian women with a faint smile, but knitted brows, who spent much of her time fetching water before her village had a cistern.

Blurred, cut-off urban spaces truncate the backgrounds for Borges’ portraits of two Bangladesh women, both of whom were sold into prostitution at an early age, before becoming advocates of rights and protections for sex workers.

Bringing the issue closer to home is his picture of a woman, holding the railing of a Harlem building, recruited into the sex industry in her early teens, who founded an organization to “end commercial sexual exploitation of children.”

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