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ARTS: Diorama Dramas displayed at photography exhibition (May/June 2023)

August 8th, 2023 · No Comments

The light box pictured here in Martha Davis’ garden allows children to discuss difficult subjects with trusted adults. COURTESY MARTHA DAVIS

Since retiring from her career teaching elementary school five years ago, photo artist and independent filmmaker, Martha Davis, has found opportunities to work with children outside the classroom. This May, she joined the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival with her Diorama Dramas.

From May 16 to May 29, Davis presented her artwork at 918 Bathurst. Her station included six physical dioramas, 18 photographs of her pieces, and an area for children six and older to build and photograph their own creations on weekends. Invitations to her exhibition were extended to school groups as well as all interested guests. 

Davis’ dioramas started on her front lawn on Markham Street. She first installed a total of 24 different dioramas in a lightbox display. Throughout the week, she observed that parents would bring their kids along to talk about each piece.

According to Davis, her dioramas open a window for kids to discuss important topics with parents and trusted adults. She is concerned about children struggling with their mental health. 

“It’s hard for them to process everything going on in the world,” she said. Her dioramas consist of three-dimensional spaces through which heavy subject matters can be playfully explored. Using miniature animals, dolls, and toys in colourful environments, Davis explores themes like climate change, habitat loss, homelessness, food insecurity, animal welfare, loneliness, addiction, and much more. With “innocent childhoods” disappearing day after day, she believes these interactions will allow mature topics to be discussed creatively and productively by children and adults together. 

The Gleaner previously recognized Davis’ award-winning film PANDALAND: Making IT Count on civic engagement through the multimedia installation of over 70 toy pandas in her neighbourhood. She continues to produce art for all age groups to enjoy. Her green screen art programme has reached schools, daycares, seniors’ residences, and long-term care homes. In 2019, she shared her green screen photography at the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, but she decided to consider her dioramas’ growing fanbase for the festival’s return.

—Hailey Alexander/Gleaner News


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