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Photos by Alejandro Bustos

Karine Giboulo: New exhibit shows the vast distance between rich and poor

By Alejandro Bustos on March 12, 2013

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Quebec artist Karine Giboulo is a master of producing miniature figures that portray evocative scenes.  From powerful commentary on the production of electronic products from China, to work that has been described as a three-dimensional comic book, Giboulo uses miniature figures to produce thought-provoking work.

Her latest exhibit Democracy Village, which is taking place at the Ottawa School of Art at 35 George Street, is no different, as she explores the vast class differences between rich and poor countries.

Modelled on a real shantytown named Village Démocratie on the outskirts of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, the exhibit is comprised of three different levels.

The first level which is at the bottom consists of a vast slum, where poor people work, play and pray in dirty water and heaps of garbage.  The second level consists of a fancy resort that is located above the slum, where rich groundhogs (representing westerners) relax in a luxurious pool and gorge in a posh restaurant overflowing with food.  The third and final level consists of a golf course located above everything else, where two golf players representing the super elite live like Roman gods who are indifferent to the world below.

“The first time I thought about the project I was in Nairobi in a slum,” says Giboulo in a phone interview from her Montreal-home. “A lady invited me into her home (a shed) and she had a large TV.  I asked her if she had electricity and she answered, ‘No, it’s just for decoration.’”

This ironic if not tragic moment in the Kenyan slum represents the clash between rich and poor that pervades the exhibit.  For instance, a large glass building modelled after the China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing overlooks the slums.  As the inhabitants below struggle to survive, an electronic quotation board on the side of the building lists the stock price of major corporations.

This relationship between corporate opulence and dire poverty is taken even further, when one realises that the glass building reflects the image of the audience, which is Giboulo’s way of saying that residents of western countries are also reflected in this social disparity.

The Canadian peacekeepers that are in the resort, meanwhile, draw another contrast, as their presence raises the question, “What are rich countries really doing when they go to the third world?”

Then there are the groundhogs that are sunbathing and gorging in the resort.

“(The groundhog) is a very self-sufficient animal that lives underground, very comfortable,” says Giboulo.  When asked if groundhogs literally have their head in the ground, and if this metaphor describes how a lot of people in the western world relate to poverty, she laughed and said “Yes.”

The entire scene is a combination of beauty, incredible skill (the project took Giboulo two years off-and-on to complete) and reflections of real life.  As a case in point, there is the poignant scene with the coffin maker, which can be seen at the top of this article.

“It is a real place,” says Giboulo about the coffin maker.  “I saw it in Haiti.”

Democracy Village runs until March 28.  It is taking place at the Byward Market Gallery of the Ottawa School of Art at 35 George Street and is free of charge.

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