Monday, September 28, 2020

Little nomads of the Terai

Feb 25. 2017
Mayhew glimpses Sadina
Mayhew glimpses Sadina
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By On view in Bangkok, moving portraits of social outcasts in the Nepali lowlands
The Nation

French-English photographer Didier Mayhew brings new meaning to familiar images of poverty in his debut solo exhibition in Bangkok, “In Nowhere Land”.

The show opens this Saturday at the Kathmandu Photo Gallery and continues through April 29.

The emotion-charged black-and-white images record the lives of nomadic families in the Terai, the lowlands between the Indian border and the Himalayan foothills in Nepal where malaria is rife. 

“Before the return of their parents, Saru and her brothers cook the evening meal.” Photo/Didier Mayhew

Mayhew established a bond with the children of this area over the course of three years. Schooled in psychology and anthropology, he followed the families in their wanderings. The fruits of his long-term observations include remarkable shots of a young girl weeping, a boy cooking a meal over a fire and another walking alone near an encampment. 

Unlike the more commonly photographed people of the Kathmandu Valley people and the mountaineering Sherpas, the residents of the Terai fundamentally have nothing.

“These families live on the margins of Nepalese society and are bitterly rejected,” says Didier. “An invisible but thick veil separates them from the rest of the population. They feel like strangers in their own homeland,|but they go through life with great dignity.”

Focusing mainly on the children, who do without schools or toys, Mayhew documents how difficult life is for the nomads. 

Of the tearful girl, Didier says in his caption, “Sometimes with a heavy heart, Sadina takes care of her two young brothers and does the daily chores (collecting firewood, cleaning, cooking).”

Another young lady is seen standing outside a ruined tent. “Lahti’s family tent has been destroyed by a night storm. She will sleep in the neighbours’ tent until her parents can build a new shelter.”

Presumably adversity makes the youngsters stronger, because they’re also pictured enjoying themselves as they explore their surroundings and learn lessons from nature. Resilience brings its own nourishment.

“The fire holds a central place in the little nomads’ lives, warming their bodies and their souls.” Photo/Didier Mayhew

“The fire holds a central place in the little nomads’ lives, warming their bodies and their souls,” Mayhew reports in another caption. “While waiting for her mum, Sajila watches over the rice cooking.”

Without the customary playthings of childhood, the kids make do with what’s available and a lot of imagination. A boy drags along a brick on a string – it might be a grand fire truck in his mind’s eye.

“For toys, anything goes,” says the caption. “Like the other children of the camp, he is torn between the joys and the limits of his freedom, and sometimes feels a profound sense of loneliness.”

Gallery owner Manit Sriwani-chpoom, who curated this show and is also talented with a camera, says he’s made an exception in Mayhew’s case.

“We don’t normally show documentary photography because usually the photographer has invested no personal emotion and left no personal imprint,” Manit explains. 

“But Didier Mayhew has total empathy for the lives he is recording. They’re real people to him, as human as he is. They’re not merely photographic subjects under the heading of social victims.”

Mayhew, 49, is currently working on a series in Bangkok, commuting regularly between Thailand and his home in Nepal.


- The exhibition “In Nowhere Land” opens on Saturday, March 4, at 6.30 pm, and continues through April 29.

- The Kathmandu Photo Gallery is off Silom Soi 19, near the Indian Temple, and open Tuesday through Saturday, daily from 11 to 6. 

- Learn more at


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