The Thai children putting a brave face on the horror of sexual abuse
Young survivors confront the world in their own hand-drawn masks for photographer Marieke van der Velden
When photographer Marieke van der Velden was asked by the Dutch charity Down to Zero to do an awareness-raising project on Thai children who had been victims of commercial sexual exploitation, she was uncertain how to proceed. For obvious reasons, her subjects’ faces could not be shown.
At home in Amsterdam, she wondered: might the children draw masks? She had a go at drawing her own face (“completely impossible”) and took a snap of her husband, posed behind her mask. This made her smile. She decided the young people could choose to draw themselves or someone else – a person they would like to be. They were enthusiastic, she says: it must have been a surprise – a break from their harrowing stories – to be invited to pick up coloured pencils, to hide behind squares of paper. “It was fun,’’ Marieke says (who thinks her earlier career as a primary school teacher may have sparked the idea). This was a slow, benign, unusual idea. As a photographer, she has done reportage for NGOs and had often felt her work had been “too fast”, especially for children, whenever painful stories were being told.