Gerry Yaum’s exhibition, Children of the Dump, is on until Nov. 4 at the Penticton Art Gallery. Steve Kidd/Western News

Penticton Art Gallery explores life on the margins of society

Photographer documents life in a Thai garbage dump

Can you imagine your definition of a better life as living in a landfill, picking through the trash to find items you can sell?

For a group of Burmese refugees living in Thailand, about 400 people in 50 family groups, that’s what they’ve found after fleeing political persecution and economic hardship.

In Forgotten Laughter: Children of the Dump, social documentarian Gerry Yaum shares photographs he has been creating in Thailand’s Mae Sot dump since 2013. The works are on display in the Project Room at the Penticton Art Gallery until Nov. 4.

The earliest images show the struggle of the people as they tried to survive in the dump, while later images are more intimate, painting a fuller picture of the lives of the people who are making a life while surrounded by trash.

“When I went to the dump the first time, it threw me. I was covered in flies, it was hot as heck, sweating, no hat, all these white bags were reflecting light into my eyes. I just felt really uncomfortable,” said Yaum. “Initially I photographed the people there like victims, people that were suffering.”

As time went on, he said he came to understand that the dump at least offered a chance for families to grow, to make money and build up their lives, at least in a small degree.

“For me, the dump sort of changed. I think that is why the photographs changed too, said Yaum. “I realized the dump was not a terrible place, it provides work.”

He doesn’t downplay the abject conditions. He relates how excited one of the people would be when they found a few forgotten coins in a discarded purse or bag.

One image Yaum showed during his Artist’s Talk at the gallery Saturday was of two boys using an old fender from a vehicle to toboggan down a hill of trash.

“It helped them feel good for an hour,” he said.

Another image shows a pretty little girl, her head shaved because of lice, a big smile on her face, clutching a donated doll that Yaum had just given her.

It’s that kind of moment, he said, that help him deal with the tragedy around him.

“You’re making a kid smile, that’s got to feel good,” said Yaum.

Yaum has returned to the Mae Sot dump over and over, becoming involved in the lives of the families and doing what he can to help make their lives easier and bring a little joy.

“My first day I was there, I showed up with two food bags that I gave to people,” said Yaum. “This last trip, in 2018, we raised $4,300 Canadian and we bought rubber boots, headlamps, toys for the kids, lollipops, all kinds of things that would help the people.”

As the images are exhibited, Yaum is also donating some of his artist fees.

“So the pictures were helping the people, that was a really beautiful thing,” said Yaum. “I would buy rubber boots, I would buy headlamps and I would head out on my motorbike and make more pictures.”

Donations to help the children and families of the dump can be made at eyestoburma.org. Yaum’s blog can be found at gerryyaum.blogspot.com.

Forgotten Laughter is one of four shows on at the Penticton Art Gallery right now. In the Toni Onley Gallery, Greg Constantine is showing Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya, documenting the human rights abuses suffered by this Muslim minority living in Burma.

Joshua Van Dyke’s Trace Marks is on display in the Bench 1775, mapping digital data of the contraction of B.C.’s woodland caribou herds into three dimensions, and exploring how the data moves between digital and analog space.

The annual Mental Health Exhibition is on in the Education Space.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
Email me or message me on Facebook
Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Just Posted

Kelowna man attempts to steal bait bike from RCMP parking lot

38-year-old Brian Richard Harbison is facing several charges

City of Kelowna urges people to donate to non-profits instead of directly to homeless

The new homeless camp on Recreation Avenue isn’t equipped to handle donations

UBCO daycare services slated for major improvements

More families will have access to high-quality child care services at UBCO

CBC Radio tops the ranking again in Kelowna

CBC had largest market share for third year in a row say rating company Numeris

Kelowna RCMP seek witnesses in pedestrian hit and run

The incident occurred around 4:00 p.m. on Dec. 4

VIDEO: Boys help rescue Cariboo bear cub

The cub, weighing just 24lbs, has been taken to wildlife sanctuary in Northwest B.C. for the winter

Doors open to Vernon’s first refill store

Vernon’s Refill Store may be answer to plastics problem

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Bear raids freezer, gorges on Island family’s Christmas baking

Hungry bruin virtually ignored meat and fish, focused, instead, on the sweets

Crown delves into Sagmoen’s history with North Okanagan sex workers

Decision on validity of police search warrant will be made on Monday, Dec. 9

Okanagan Similkameen could have a sister city in the south of France

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen considering agreement with wine region in southern France

Summerland businesses participate in Sip N’ Shop

Downtown event on Dec. 14 will feature local beverages

B.C. pharmaceutical company’s stocks double in value after successful lupus drug trial

More than 40 per cent of patients using voclosporin saw improvements in kidney function

Noxious odour detected at Summerland Health Centre

Staff felt nauseous following incident on morning of Dec. 5

Most Read