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In the Playground

There’s nothing like controversy to draw attention to thought-provoking art.

Jonathan Hobin, an Ottawa- and Toronto-based photographer and art director, has recently unveiled his newest exhibition of photographs at the Dale Smith gallery in Ottawa. Entitled In the Playroom, the show consists of a series of portraits which, according to the Toronto Star, “brings the headlines into the supposedly safe, carefree space of childhood playtime.” And it is this collision of worlds, captured in images like ‘The Twins’ (below), which seems to have caused all the hooplah:

‘The Twins’ portrays the events of September 11, 2001 in a children’s playroom — striking because of the setting, the saturated colours, and the boys’ expressions (particularly the intense near-scowl the boy on the left is wearing).  Hobin displaces other horrific news headlines — such as Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Boxing Day tsunami, the death of JonBenet Ramsey, and the Jonestown Massacre (to name just a few) — and re-situates them in the apparently ‘safe’ environments of middle class children’s backyards, their bedrooms, and their play areas. You can see a selection of these images here. The combination of blood, innocence, atrocious/often world-changing events, and the way the young models stare directly at the viewer has unsettled more than a few people. In the Toronto Star article, Hobin explains: “I want people to acknowledge the fact that kids see the scariest things that are out there,” he said. “If you see it, they see it.”

Although I am not a mother, I can see why this series has upset parents (concerns about the models’ welfare appears to be a particularly sensitive issue in this respect). But as someone who appreciates strong visual art — which dares to challenge, which upsets, which points out that things aren’t always as ‘safe’ as they seem — I have to say I’m really quite taken by this artist’s approach.

I only wish he’d exhibited this series a few months earlier, so I could’ve seen them up close when I was in Canadia in July…

(Thanks to David Glantz for drawing my attention to this!)

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