'Atlas of Humanity': An atlas of cultures comes to the Berkshires
140 images at Stationery Factory's new exhibit show people from around the world
DALTON — Sanaz smiles at the camera and lifts a hand to her forehead. She is standing in the sunlight near a cloth like a curtain, a slim 9-year-old-girl in a black T-shirt with short dark hair and grey-green eyes. She lives in Ashura, in Iran.
The photographer who met her there is Bahar Mohamadian, and she has traveled through Iran, meeting people in city streets and in the fields.
With her image of Sanaz, she joins 100 to 150 photographers from many countries, and a series of 350 or more photographs from around the world. They are meant to map all of the peoples and cultures living on the planet, as the project's curator, Martin Vegas, has described the project on its website. He calls it "Atlas of Humanity," and it has come to the Berkshires.
The exhibit has traveled internationally since 2018, said David Williams, of Innova Art, who brought the exhibit to The Stationery Factory, where he also works out of with his company that makes digital fine art papers and display systems. In the U.S., the large exhibit has so far appeared only in New York City and Chicago, and it has just opened for the third time in the space in Dalton.
Williams looks at an array of vivid portraits that will hang until Thanksgiving in a long room in the restored mill, in and around his office. The people look steadily out of the frames — Kostur from Macedonia, a touring musician with his hair swept up on dreadlocks, or Ty from California in a grey wool beanie and ear buds.
"You look at them," Williams said, "and they look back at you."
"The idea is to photograph [people from] every culture," he said.
By now, the Atlas has reached some 400 cultures. The full project shows people of all ages, from a Hmong baby in a sling to a grey-beared sadhu near the Ganges River. And 140 of them are on view here in the Berkshires.
Some people wear formal dress, jewelry and decoration. Some wear body paint. Some are dressed for protection from the weather, and some for work. They come from major urban centers, remote villages, refugee camps.
Some cultures are changing or disappearing, Williams said. Vegas wants to honor the beauty and strength of them, and their variety, and their common ground.
The exhibit began four years ago. Vegas is a professional photographer and curator, and he had been working on an exhibit called "ImageNation" in his hometown, Desenzano del Garda, Italy. He was working with DeFactory, a cultural non-profit association, to create a community and a group show of contemporary photographers in del Garda — the exhibit has grown internationally since then, from Paris to London to Los Angeles.
As he worked on it, the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity inspired him to think globally — as it affirms "that respect for the diversity of cultures, tolerance, dialogue and cooperation, in a climate of mutual trust and understanding are among the best guarantees of international peace and security ..."
And in 2015, he created the framework for "Atlas."
He started out by inviting friends and photographers he knew, Williams said. The exhibit is still growing. Any photographer can contribute, Williams said, though Vegas curates the photos for their look and feel and quality.
The exhibit is traveling internationally, and Williams and the Berkshires play a part in getting it moving. Until September 2018, the photographs had only appeared online, Williams said. He often works with photographers and artists making prints of their work. He used to work for Crane Company in Dalton, and now he works for Innova, a maker of fine art papers and canvas. A few years ago he met Vegas, and as they got to know his work, Innova proposed printing portraits for "Atlas."
The exhibit opened for the first time at Photokina 2018 in Cologne, Germany, Williams said. Since then, it has headed from Europe to the United Arab Emirates, and this summer it took part in the 8th Dali International Photo Festival in Yunnan Province, China.
Vegas had to choose a tone for the project, Williams said, and the "Atlas" website describes it as a cultural-anthropological perspective.
The photographers focus on the people, Williams said, not on their own artistic ideas. But the photographs only occasionally give names. Many speak generally of a people and a place — "Tuareg man amongst the camels at Essakane, Mali."
Some will briefly explain a person's role or work or skill, like the girl shown in "a Balinese Legong dancer."
She is young and crowned in golden cloth and colored stones, with tasseled beads at her temples, and she is surrounded by yellow flowers, fern fronds and a fan in gold and dark blue.
This style of dance is unique to Bali, the caption says, and involves intricate finger movements and footwork and strong expressions to tell a story.
The website has begun to give more background on some places and people. They do not identify the writers, and the descriptions are not told in the words of the people in the portraits. But they give a range of images.
In Iran, Bahar Mohamadian shows a young girl looking out a window at a bluff of sand-colored stone. A farmer carries an armload of wheat in the fields in Kajaz.
A man and six children are sitting on the same motorcycle in Gavandi Port — one of the youngest is sitting on the handlebars. A men's tailor sews a hem on a treadle sewing machine in the old Bazaar in Birjand, sitting at a table in the sunlight.
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