Chicago Photo Show

Nepal: Faces of a People's War

Revolutionary Worker #1090, February 11, 2001, posted at

"I actually didn't know that much about what was going on in Nepal and my reaction to the show is that it's amazing that she could even go there and do this and I think it's real important for people to see this and know what's going on there. The photographs themselves are wonderful. But I think getting the story out there is really important. And hopefully this is a good start for a lot of people to learn what's going on."

Woman photographer

"The people there are fighting for the struggle. They in the worst conditions that they could be in, but they still got heart. I like that. I think I could go over there and represent with them. I think I could, cause I could understand that that's a struggle... I think a lot of these people that's in these pictures would be real proud to know that we over here looking at them and looking at their struggle because it lets them know that they not just the ones that's enduring it. We enduring it too by having to look at it. So it's just as much a question to us to have to look at them living like this, as it is for them having to live like that. I think that this should have been held in a museum more than just in a little gallery like this, cause I think there are thousands of people that really needs to see this."

Black proletarian
from the Southside of Chicago


Nepal: Faces of a People's War, Photographs by Li Onesto premiered at the Around the Coyote Gallery in Chicago from January 12 to 19. The photos, taken by RW reporter Li Onesto when she traveled into the guerrilla zones in Nepal in 1999, took the viewer on a journey through the villages of Nepal--where support is strong for the revolutionary war that is led by the Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist. A mix of documentary photos and portraits, Onesto's pictures brought viewers face-to-face with the poor peasants, young militia fighters, families of revolutionary martyrs, and the young women who have brought their energy into the revolution in large numbers.

On opening night, 200 people packed the room, drawn to the exhibit for many different reasons and from many different walks of life. A man from India, now living in the U.S.; students from DePaul University and Columbia College; an internet strategist for a downtown financial company; an engineer for Motorola out in the suburbs; an aerobics instructor; a man who works for an internet music company; a film student; hip hop youth; photographers; artists; journalists; a British woman who grew up as a child in India; a Latino man who works for a pharmaceutical company; a Nepalese man who grew up in Kathmandu; people who trekked, worked, and lived in Nepal; a philosophy professor; a psychologist; a librarian.

It was a noisy and animated crowd. Not content to just come, see and go, many stayed to share their thoughts with others and take several trips along the walls.

Some people had visited Nepal. Captivated by the country's beauty and saddened by its poverty, they were drawn to the show. Many came because they heard Li Onesto that afternoon on Jerome McDonnel's NPR radio show Worldview. One woman said that she found the half-hour interview so engaging she had to pull her car off the road. Some came because they had worked or lived in India or have relatives living in that part of the world. One woman saw the notice of the show with a photo of four militia women in the weekly Reader and said she just had to come check it out.

Different opinions floated about the room. But there was a collective feeling of surprise and discovery: "We didn't know about this hidden story..."

People wrote in the guest book:

"Truly amazing! Your pics really bring out a reality I would have never otherwise been exposed to."

"Stunning photos. I spent two months there last year--I only heard negative things about the Maoists. It's nice to hear their side."

"I was unaware of the plight of the Nepalese people prior to this exhibit. Thank you for bringing your work to the larger society. I hope that through your photographs and literature the American people are made more aware of this problem."

People told the RW:

"It's firsthand information which is something you really don't get a lot of these days. It seems like everything we hear is filtered through the media, but this is like real firsthand, real photographs of real people, real stories and that's what I like about it. All the pictures are really visually striking too. You see these kids with guns and it just makes you stop and think about what's going on in the world..."

"There's no one I've talked to tonight who knew about this before they came here, and I didn't know about it."

"It's a shame to think about how many countries there are that are living far below the levels which the world could provide. I'm too old to come up with solutions for that anymore, but I'm glad that people are."


"The thing that stuck out the most was the sense of pride and accomplishment in the faces of the people despite the conditions (including risking their lives)."

From the guest book

Most people took their time going around the room, staring back at the faces, stepping back for a different angle, then moving back in close. Some quietly entered this unfamiliar territory. Others felt compelled to speak out loud to whomever was standing around. And there was also the sense of another, unspoken dialogue which filled the gallery space. People, in one way or another, making a connection to a life-and-death struggle on the other side of the globe.

Many commented on the bright colors--how they danced around amidst stark poverty. And "the look in their eyes" brought out a complexity of emotions. One person wrote, "I love the pride in their eyes." Another wrote, "You captured the faces of struggle and triumph."

A psychologist called people over to a large photo of four young women militia with guns over their shoulders and patterned scarves tied around their faces. "Look at their faces--wherever you go, they are all looking at you and each one is looking at you differently," he said, admitting surprise at the diversity of personalities among the combatants.

Two words kept coming up when people described the faces in the photographs: "strength" and "determination." One person wrote: "Through the turmoil and struggles of a nation and its people you have managed to capture a sincerity and inspirational fire among them as well. A feeling of determination and that determination shows through their faces."

A woman who works for a photo agency said: "The strength of the women really comes through, and I think that the thing that's most striking to me is how the youth and the women are involved in this revolution. And I just think she did a wonderful job in showing that in the images. I read Li Onesto's series and I think that the solidarity--that they want to make this a worldwide struggle, I think that is really important. My favorite picture is the one of all the people and the women (with their fists up in the air) because it shows strength and solidarity of masses and there's a certain resolve and strength in the faces, they're not afraid."

This photo of a crowd of villagers--who appeared at the door of a village house where Onesto was conducting interviews--was a favorite of many others who said it captured a lot about the mood of the Nepalese people:

"The children, you know they're children, but they just look so much older. You can tell that they have a hard, hard life. And also, some of them, they still look happy and others really look determined. Like in that photograph, that little girl, she looks so determined and she almost looks too young to have that kind of look. But people also seem like--even the photo of the women with rifles in their hands--they sort of look like they're having a good time. Maybe it's because they're fighting for what they believe in and they're feeling good about it. But I mean it's almost overwhelming because it's so different from what we know of in the United States."

A Black woman from the Southside told the RW: "These people are really, really fighting for something. They're living primitively but I'm quite sure they're proud of what they have. You can look into their eyes and see they're proud, strong people. And the youth--the children, the young girls. It's just breathtaking to see them all fighting together for one cause instead of fighting each other, like we are over here. It's just beautiful. I wish I could go over there and see what it's like.... I know it's hard for those people. But it's good to see that they have that inner brilliance that outshines, so that they fight and go on."


What was people's favorite photo?

"This picture right here (of women with guns). What I like about it is that they're women who don't take no crap. That's like, mama don't take no mess. They dead serious. You can look in their eyes and tell that they not just posing. That it's something real going on. You gonna put on your camera stare when you're in front of the cameras but they can't do that because they living this...

Black proletarian
from the Southside of Chicago

"I'm very partial to the women that have their rifles that are pointing straight at the camera. That one's very good. It shows how much revolutionary potential us women have, how strong we are. It shocks people because we're not expected to be the ones that are strong, yet we are."

"It reminds me of a Charlie's Angel's pose. I think it's so awesome, like Nepalese women fighting, but it's not like TV--beautiful blonde women fighting in high heels. This is like the real thing and I just love it... I didn't know this was going on. But this is photos, right here, like in your face, that shows you that it's happening and it's real and it makes it more real. It adds like a face to it and I think that's what makes it more powerful. It's amazing. It's just proof. Because sometimes you read about it, you hear about it. But it's like here, you're seeing it. And it's also an outlet for other people who aren't involved. Like people come over to your house, and you say look at this and it gets them involved and also puts a face to them and makes it an issue for them."

Two Young Latino Woman


"This story really touched me and I'll make sure I tell as many people as possible. As a musician and songwriter, the Nepalese have my support."

Black woman from Colombia College

The following week, StreetWise, the Chicago newspaper sold by homeless people, featured a story about Li Onesto's trip and the photo show on the front cover. Word traveled via those who had come opening night and many others came during the week. Closing night, the crowd of 75 people included some who returned, bringing friends.

Li Onesto told the RW: "I think when people see these images of poor peasants risking their lives to fight for a better life, a basic human connection gets made. The situation in Nepal raises a lot of questions for people--about the state of the world, the inequality between the U.S. and oppressed countries, and what it will take to get rid of poverty on a global scale. We got such a great response in Chicago. Now I'm hoping people in other cities will be able to see this show."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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