In April and May, a countywide collaborative effort will bring the work of a United Nations photographer, and an awareness of women’s issues both global and local, to Canton. Sponsored by the Stark County chapter of Soroptimist International, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of girls and women, “Stirring the Fire” will consist of a series of events scheduled through May. The centerpiece is an exhibition of nearly 40 portraits of women from Third World countries around the world. Taken by U.N. photographer Phil Borges during 25 years of travel among indigenous cultures, the portraits document lives that have faced some of the worst crimes imaginable — and persevered.
“[Borges] went to countries where women are subjected to sex trade, sex trafficking, tribal sexual violence, genocide,” said Craig Joseph, curator of Translations Art Gallery in Canton, where the portraits will be exhibited. “These are women who have triumphed through that, and gone on to become leaders in their communities.” Many received microloans and started small businesses that benefited others, Joseph said. “It’s stories of personal success, but also of pulling their communities up with them.” Each photograph is accompanied by text that relates their story, creating what Joseph calls a “sort of visual biography.”
Borges “was very intentional about picking women from all countries, all stages of life,” he said. “You get this cradle-to-the-grave portrait of what it means to be women at each stage of life, which I think is really beautiful.”
In fact, Canton’s Domestic Violence Project, which participated in planning, will bring many of the local women it supports to view the exhibition. Prints of the portraits and catalogues will be available at the gallery as well.
Coordinating the event is Alexandra Nicholis Coon, executive director of the Massillon Museum and a past president of Soroptimist.
“Being part of the museum, there are a lot of exhibits proposed to us formally,” she said. “I’d gotten on a mailing list and learned about [Stirring the Fire] and I knew it wouldn’t be a fit for the museum, but perfect for Soroptimist.”
Coon coordinated the participation of a number of Stark County groups, including Walsh University, Canton Palace Theatre, Jeff and Heather Fisher, ArtsinStark, the Goldsmith Foundation, the Women’s Domestic Violence Project and others to sponsor and promote the program. “We’ve been so excited about the response from the community,” she said.
Events for “Stirring the Fire” began last month, with the opening of an exhibit at Walsh University titled “Carachina Women.” Running through April 28, the show by Rachel Storm highlights the lives of women who operate a shelter in Ecuador. On Sunday, April 22, Soroptimist will host a 5K Running for Hope event to raise awareness on women’s domestic violence issues and funds for the Domestic Violence Project, at Stark State University. On Thursday May 10, Borges himself will be coming to Translations Gallery for a reception from 7 to 9 p.m.; tickets are $15. On Mother’s Day, May 13, the Canton Palace Theatre will host two screenings of a microlending documentary project filmed by Sandy Valley High graduate Rachel Cook. Tickets for the 3 p.m. matinee are $5; tickets for the 6 p.m. VIP screening, for
which Cook will be present, are $10. “The photos are beautiful and compelling,” said Coon, and Joseph agrees. “I think it also says something about our capacity as humans to overcome.”