While millions of people go about their daily lives doing the usual stuff, like getting children off to school, going to work, relaxing and sharing a meal with family, millions of other people live in tragic circumstances, such as starvation, homelessness and the horror that comes with endless wars and terrorism.
There’s a big divide between developed and underdeveloped nations and although the former may be aware of the terrible conditions millions try to survive in developing or Least Developed Countries (LDCs), they find it hard to imagine or truly understand the reality of these people’s daily lives.
Artist Uğur Gallenkuş, from Istanbul, Turkey, has been using his work to show and help people understand just how extreme the difference can be between the two.
Using images considered ‘everyday’ or ‘normal’ for those in developed countries and combining them with those taken in countries with drastically different living conditions. The results highlight the stark reality of the differences in lifestyles.
Uğur considers his combined images as a hobby, using his art to raise awareness and perhaps rekindle the flame of empathy within humanity. In his view, visual art can often be more powerful and accessible than words.
Uğur’s first collage was in 2015 of the death of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach after the family’s boat capsized in an attempt to reach Europe.
Warning: this image contains content viewers may find distressing:
Uğur started a series of his creations the following year.
The impact of the images depend on the viewer and regardless of which side of the divide they are on, evokes the truth of how the other half live.
The United Nations 2018 Development Report lists the top 30 developed countries as Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Iceland, Hong Kong, Sweden, Singapore, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, the US, the UK, Finland, New Zealand, Austria, France, the Czech Republic and Estonia, among others.
Those on the Least Developed Countries list include Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chad, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Haiti, Liberia, Madagascar, Nepal, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia.
Developed countries have well developed economies and technologically advanced infrastructure, whereas LDCs are ‘low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development’, with ‘low levels of human assets’. According to the UN, they are ‘highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks’.
Although Uğur hopes to awaken empathy through his creations and make developed nations appreciate ‘how lucky they are to live peacefully and beautifully’, he also wants the images to impact people from underdeveloped countries.
Speaking to UNILAD, he explained:
I want to show [underdeveloped countries] they are far from peace, education, democracy, science and the arts and encourage them to question why they and their children can’t be happy.
I want to make sure they see these issues more clearly. Seeing the inequality through my work makes clear there is a problem which needs to be solved.
If you are not a pluralistic, inclusive and productive society, you are open to suffering, to war, to exploitation.
It can be harrowing to learn of the suffering faced by humanity, even for those who are far removed from the issues. Sometimes it’s easier not to think about the extent of the problems and as a result not many people go out of their way to learn about the various conflicts going on all over the world.
Though we hear about war and poverty in the news and online, it’s often only new or particularly notable stories which get told. As new events unfold, ongoing conflicts get pushed under the carpet and concern is shifted away from one issue and on to another.
Uğur aims to raise awareness of conflicts across the globe, sharing photos from Syria and the refugee crisis, he also shines the light on other countries.
The above image shows a child soldier in Libya, where a civil war has been raging since 2014 as rivals seek control of the territory and oil. According to the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict report, more than 7,000 children were drawn into frontline fighting and support roles globally in 2018.
The image below shows a four-year-old wrapped in a blanket as she walks through a transit camp in Uganda after fleeing South Sudan. Four million citizens fled their homes since the civil war began in 2013. Around 2.3 million people have escaped to neighbouring countries in search of safety, while 1.8 million are trapped inside the warring nation, according to a Mercy Corps report.
Uğur searches through images from photojournalists ‘who work under difficult circumstances and present us with events we have not [yet] seen’. During his searches, he has come across a multitude of horrific scenes, including those of bombings and bodies of refugees trying to escape, drowned and washed up on beaches.
Children in war is one topic he finds people react strongly to, is that of children in war, ‘because children are the most innocent creatures in the world’, adding: ‘It doesn’t matter if they are British, Turkish, Christian or Muslim. A child is a child.’
One image Uğur considers as the most shocking shows a child sleeping peacefully in a cosy bed, while the other half shows a young boy in a hospital bed with part of his left arm and leg amputated.
According to Uğur the boy was just four years old and treated at the Italian Red Cross hospital for a blast injury from an US air shot, killing his grandfather and nine others in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
Take a look at the photo here:
Reactions to his work are mixed, some social media users commend him for the ‘simple but very strong’ messages while others argue they are ‘Muslim propaganda’. Muslims have also commented, putting the blame on non-Muslims.
Uğur believes these comments are made since many of his images depict Muslims but, he pointed out: ‘Christians, Jews, [and] atheists can also be exposed to war and suffering’.
Speaking of the reactions he gets and his stance on his creations, Uğur said:
Looking at it from a single perspective doesn’t solve problems.
I don’t care about religion, language, political opinion. There are good people and bad people.
While he doesn’t expect his artwork to change the world, the creator believes he has been successful in raising awareness, explaining ‘only a small impact matters’.
Uğur’s work has been displayed in schools and exhibitions across the world and he hopes to release a book of his work in future.
His images allow people to see the huge difference between other nations and he believes it may help create awareness in future generations of the extreme differences in lifestyles of people across the world.
You’ll find Uğur’s other work on his Instagram page.