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

Central Okanagan emergency support volunteers sought

Volunteers needed in Lake Country area

UBC Okanagan hosts gala evening of fun, art and entertainment

The annual event is celebrating its 17th anniversary

Okanagan Military Tattoo returns

Performances July 28 and July 28

Rockets topple Prince Albert Raiders

The Kelowna Rockets defeated the Raiders Saturday night

Heat couldn’t clip Thunderbird’s wings

The Thunderbirds defeated the Heat Saturday night and continued winning streak

Find me my furever home: Mittens and Boots

Meet Mittens and Boots who are available for adoption at the Kelowna BC SPCA

Patriots make 3rd straight Super Bowl, beat Chiefs 37-31 in OT

New England will meet L.A. Rams in NFL title game

Pettersson returns to lead Canucks to 3-2 win over Red Wings

Vancouver’s super rookie has 2 points in first game back after knee injury

Crash closes Coquihalla southbound lane south of Merritt

Accident occurred approximately 26 kilometres south of Merritt

Skaters stranded in Saint John, NB, amid storm on last day of championships

More than half of the flights out of the city’s airport were cancelled due to the weather

Call for tighter bail rules after Saudi sex-crime suspect vanishes

Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi was facing charges related to alleged sexual assault, criminal harassment, assault and forcible confinement of a woman

12 poisoned eagles found on Vancouver Island

Improper disposal of euthanized animal suspected

Olympic softball qualifier to be held in B.C.

Tournament is to be held Aug. 25 to Sept. 1

Most Read