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Let the Humble Be King: Iris Della Roca And The Stars Of The Favelas

Let the Humble Be King: Iris Della Roca And The Stars Of The Favelas

Picture of Joséphine Gambade
Updated: 12 December 2015
French photographer Iris Della Roca is exhibiting her work from the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Parisian suburb Clichy Sous Bois in the Little Black Gallery in Chelsea. Her mesmerising photographs feature the children of these places as they see themselves and wish to be seen by others.

Le top model, Isabelly ,13 ans, favela de Rocinha
© Iris Della Roca/Draughtsman PR

“As the king is not humble, may the humble be king”

(Puisque le roi n’est pas pas humble, que l’humble soit roi).

Such is the name of the currently exhibited collection of transatlantic photographs of Iris Della Roca. In the heart of London’s most aristocratic area, Chelsea, the tiny Little Black Gallery opens its doors from the 14th until the 21st of March to this member of the international female collective World Wide Women, for her first solo exhibition in the London art scene. This organisation of thirty-four women is a creative collective created in 2012, which represents the unrestricted, invincible spirit of women in today’s art sphere and acts to incite, support, exhibit, and sell the work of female photographers and artists. The organisation has backed the artist in her project of six years in the favelas of Brazil and suburbs of Paris.

Iris Della Roca grew up for the most part on her father’s sailing boat, and traveled around from a young age. Hence, her fascination for the geographical, cultural, and social diversity of the world was born, and in 2009 she made a bold move and decided to move to the biggest favela in the world in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on her own. That is when the project in itself started as Della Roca volunteered in an organisation named ‘Swap a gun for a brush’ (‘Troc une arme contre un pinceau’), which took her to the heart of Brazilian favelas to work with children there. The objective was to bring a bit more creativity into their lives, which were often endangered by gangs and the constant presence of guns. At first, the children would regard these meetings as very formal and dress their best to show off to the volunteers. Eventually, however, Della Roca forged a strong friendship with the children she worked with. “We are becoming very close, like family”, she says.

La Star Hollywoodienne, Milena 11 ans, favela de Rocinha
© Iris Della Roca/Draughtsman PR

Della Roca discovered the lack of accurate representation of these children, so she decided to utilise her training as a photographer by giving them the opportunity to be photographed as what they thought they were, not what Western society thought of them. And the result six years later is nothing but splendid. As she took the project to the suburb of Clichy Sous Bois, she was able to gather a large range of shots of children from two ends of the world whose dreams seemed to be unheard of. The selection of glossy prints of these children, who became top models, gang chiefs, bride and groom, dancers, and more, from two ends of the world, not only challenges our ideas of what the children in these favelas and suburbs are living and are dreaming of, but also bypasses their intrinsic political issues to instead concentrate on the children’s individuality. Della Roca stresses that these photographs aren’t really about the children dressing up in costumes to pretend to be something they are not, but rather that they are dressing to highlight who they feel they are, using the costumes as extensions of themselves.

Le Magicien, Pedro henrique, 7 ans, Favela de Rocinha
© Iris Della Roca/Draughtsman PR

Small but explicit, the gallery offers the perfect space to display the collection. Set up by Tamara Beckwith, Lindsey Carlos Clarke, and Ghislain Pascal in November 2008, it is London’s boutique photography gallery, specialising in international contemporary photography, and is free of admission. The gallery was first set up in memory of the life of photographer Bob Carlos Clarke. The downstairs gallery of his works, featuring, among others, his beautiful shot of Dita Von Teese, perfectly partners with the beautiful work by Della Roca, who promises, to our greatest delight, to come back with more projects in the years to come (‘God’s creatures’ and ‘Dans la rue’).

“As the king is not humble, Let the humble be king” is on at The Little Black Gallery until March 21, 2015.

The prima ballerina, Estefany,9 years, Favela de Rocinha
© Iris Della Roca/Draughtsman PR

By Josephine Gambade