“Spirit” Exhibit Showcases Journeys of Peace Corps Volunteers

The exhibition, on display at 70 South Gallery in Morristown, features photographs and portraits taken around the world by Peace Corps volunteers.

The exhibit’s central image is this striking portrait of a village matriarch by photographer Beth Eanelli, a Ridgewood resident.
The exhibit’s central image is this striking portrait of a village matriarch by photographer Beth Eanelli, a Ridgewood resident.
Photo by Beth Eanelli.

Entering the atrium of 70 South Gallery in Morristown, you are greeted from all sides by portraits. Cropped close around joyful or contemplative faces from Zambia, Benin, Mali and Afghanistan, these are only a sampling of the work by 15 former and current Peace Corps Volunteers, whose work was curated for 70 South’s exhibition, “Spirit.”

“You’ll notice that the volunteers themselves are not in these photographs,” explains curator Gina Cerbone, “We wanted to capture the spirit of the people they encountered, through their eyes.” Some of the portraits and candid images are displayed in vibrant color, others in resonant black and white; each series equally as salient in tone, movement and exemplification of place, from countries including Nepal, Rwanda and Guatemala.

Since President Kennedy signed the executive order to create the Corps in 1961, over 5,000 New Jersey residents have served (187 are active). Of the 15 photographers exhibited, four are New Jersey residents. The images range from early tours in the 1960s to current volunteers, but time is indistinct. It is the spirit of the countrymen and women in their surroundings that shines through, “without necessarily time or politics involved,” explains gallery director Ira L. Black.

The exhibit’s central image is by photographer Beth Eanelli, a Park Ridge resident. Beth captured the striking portrait of a village matriarch, Musoo Keba during her 27 months in Gambia. This photo is among her favorites, “I can remember the exact moment I heard the shutter click,” she muses. “I can hear myself asking the gorgeous older woman, “’N lafita ila naatalo! Ila paree niñaata!’ ‘I would like to take your photo. Your outfit is beautiful.’ She is strong, resilient…and warm.”

The photographers are considered amateur, though time in the Peace Corps influenced some professional careers. Early work of respected photographer Bill Owens, from his 1964 tour in Jamaica is on display. The gallery also features the work of one local novice- as they do for each exhibition. Ugoada Ikoro, a high school student in Piscataway who is too young to meet Corps requirements, shows her work from a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) trip to a leprosy center in Nigeria. “My intention,” she notes, “was to try to capture the essence and spirit of a group of people that have long been neglected.”

Ikoro’s purpose reflects the larger goals of both “Spirit.” and the Corps; to bring awareness and assistance to the souls of each place. The gallery is doing its part through the show itself, and through proceeds from sales of artwork. Eighty percent of profits will be donated back to the Peace Corps, to fund sustainable grassroots community development for those serving from New Jersey and around the country.

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