2017-01-05 / Community News

UNE exhibit looks at the ‘displaced’

The University of New England’s Biddeford campus Ketchum Library Art Gallery announced a new exhibition, “ZERO,” a photography exhibit in black and white, by Robert Pennington, to run from Jan. 25 through March 1.

“ZERO” is an intimate study that examines the lives of Columbia’s desplazados (displaced). It is a story about people – those who are disenfranchised and often invisible.

According to Pennington, Latin America’s oldest democracy is home to the world’s longest-running civil war. After more than 52 years of conflict, it currently has 6.9 million internally displaced persons – more than any other country on the planet. Equally disturbing, Pennington said, is that few are even aware of the displaced population. “ZERO” gives face and voice to los desplazados de Colombia. It is an exploration of life after displacement, a story about courage and resilience and the willingness to begin anew.

The title of the exhibition, “ZERO,” surfaced while Pennington was researching Colombia’s history with social stratification (dating from the 16th century) and its current system of estratos (strata), which ranks people from six (highest) to one (lowest). He learned that the system was introduced in the 1980s as a way to identify and provide essential services at affordable rates to the poor, but realized that the system once designed to help poor communities had instead marginalized an entire class of Colombians. On one of his first trips to the barrio of Altos de la Florida in Soacha, he met un desplazado who said to him, “I am strato ZERO.”

During the run of the exhibition, there will be two educational programs. Pennington will present a public talk at 6 p.m. Feb. 2 in the UNE Art Gallery in Ketchum Library on the UNE Biddeford campus at 11 Hills Beach Road, Biddeford. Topics will include the political climate in Colombia at present, the current Peace Accord with Las FARC (the largest left-wing guerilla faction in Colombia) and Pennington’s process as a documentarian; question and answer session to follow.

Pennington will address the student body at UNE at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 8. The event is open to the public and will be tailored for the students/faculty of the Latin American Studies Department and the Office of Civic Engagement. Topics include Pennington’s process as a documentary photographer; stories from the displaced; and the why, when and how of “ZERO.” A question and answer session will follow.

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