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From 4-year-old Kaya in Tokyo, whose opulent bedroom is filled from floor to ceiling with expensive clothes and toys, to 9-year-old Alex in Brazil, who sleeps outside on a tattered, discarded couch, The Leonardo's new exhibit, "Where Children Sleep," shows with shocking disparity where our youngest and most vulnerable inhabitants place their heads each night.
The exhibit includes portraits of children from around the globe alongside images of their "bedrooms," which can range from elaborate sanctuaries to the barest spaces.
The studio-style portraits, taken by Kenya-born photographer James Mollison, are accompanied by written details about the children and emphasize how they are affected by economic, social and political conditions beyond their control.
"Some children have it all and some don't," said Andrew Parker, The Leonardo's marketing officer. But the common thread is that "everyone needs a nice place to lay your head, and when you don't have that, it affects you."
When he was asked to come up with an idea for engaging with children's rights, Mollison found himself thinking about "my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was," he wrote. "It occurred to me that a way to address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting children would be to look at the bedrooms of children in all kinds of different circumstances."
The result is a thought-provoking exhibit that touches on class, race, hunger and education, all through the lens of a child's bedroom.
"Where Children Sleep" is the second exhibit in which The Leonardo hopes to address social issues, executive director Alex Hesse said during an opening news conference Thursday. Several months ago, The Leonardo offered "No Fixed Address," an exhibit that gave people without a permanent residence an opportunity to introduce themselves to the world through art.
"We thought it was important to build on 'No Fixed Address,' " not only to educate and "touch people's hearts," but also to "compel them to action," Hesse said.
All proceeds from "Where Children Sleep" will be donated to Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity and its new "Field of Dreams" project, which will transform the Kearns American League baseball fields which had deteriorated into a haven for illicit activities into an affordable housing complex for 20 families. Wells Fargo Bank already has donated $82,500 toward the project.
Ed Blake, Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity executive director, said people must apply for the homes, meet certain income guidelines and be able to invest 225 hours of "sweat equity" into building homes for themselves and others. In return, they get an interest-free 30-year mortgage.
To bring attention to local families in need of housing, about a dozen Utah children, whose families have applied for homes, have their photos, stories and bedrooms featured in the "Where Children Sleep" exhibit.
The exhibit proceeds will be used to create "dream bedrooms" for each of the Utah children when their house is complete. "A child's bedroom is their safe haven," Blake said. "It provides a place for them to feel empowered."
One of the Utah children featured is 6-year-old River Bear, who shares a bedroom with his 4-year-old brother and 8-month-old sister. His dream room would have rainbow colors and posters of treasure maps and the planets. His mother, Lilith Bear, said the family has spent many years renting and their current apartment lacks enough room for a kitchen table. "A house will allow us to sit around the dining room table and talk," she said. "Our children can have a safe space to grow and we can bond as a family."
'Where Children Sleep'
The Leonardo's newest exhibit shows with shocking disparity where our youngest and most vulnerable inhabitants place their head each night. The traveling exhibit, on view for a unspecified limited engagement, is included with the purchase of a general admission ticket.
When • Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets • $12.95; seniors, students and military, $9.95; children 3-12, $8.95; children 2 and younger, free