Poverty: The elephant in the room

A recent tweet by good friend Juliana Rotich on street/graffiti artist Banksy reminded me of another image he put together a couple of years ago. On display in Los Angeles for a limited time as part of an exhibition on global poverty and injustice, this was an incredible piece of “live art” which made it stand out from many of the other ‘works of art’ he has become famous for.

Elephant, by Banksy

Banksy created the image to drive home how widely world poverty is ignored, and I used it during my first talk at Stanford University in late 2006 to describe my first visit to the African continent in 1993. It was during this trip – to help build a school in northern Zambia – that I first noticed the elephant.

When was the first time you saw it?

34 thoughts on “Poverty: The elephant in the room

  1. Pingback: Danielle Dumm
  2. Pingback: @mikegechter's RSS
  3. Pingback: Josef Scarantino
  4. Kari Doyle says:

    Probably when my parents took me and my sister to serve at a local mission one afternoon. I was passing out toys to the children who came in with their parents, and one child bit me. I didn’t understand why but my mom said they’d probably never had anyone do anything nice for him, so he didn’t have any reason to trust me. That stayed with me forever. After that I tried to pay more attention to how we were serving in our community and the world at large.

  5. Kathy Welsh says:

    I love this! Ken, I remember a t-shirt you wore then that says, “I have become comfortably numb.” The girl on the sofa could be wearing that shirt! I was that girl until about 1983 when I read “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lape.

  6. Theresa Ann Conner says:

    The 1st time I saw it? 1986, middle of civil war in El Salvador, no food, empty supermarket/market shelves, loads of russian tanks and arms, and private trucks delivering some of the finest cuts of meat to families in communities around San Salvador who were either tied to consular or commercial activities….or simply connected….and I realised that while possibly magnified by war, poverty wasn’t/isn’t contextualised by war – it’s contextualised by a social structure within which certain people are considered to be expendable….war or no war

  7. kiwanja says:

    Thanks, guys! Interesting to see the different avenues that brought us to where we are today. I think that very first realisation is a key moment – thanks for sharing. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Ken Banks
  9. Pingback: Ken Banks
  10. Pingback: kiwanja
  11. Pingback: JohnReaves
  12. Pingback: johnreaves
  13. jane fleming says:

    Walking back from my kids schoolin a cold November, I saw a small child wearing a thin nylon white shirt, grey skirt and black plimsols. She was late, thin and scraggy. Obviously hidden from the main group going off to school earlier. Invisible poverty in what was a low caste area of Watford, England.

  14. Pingback: paconmiller
  15. Pingback: paconmiller
  16. kiwanja says:

    @Kathy – By the way, glad to hear that you remembered the t-shirt. It just said “Numb”, but was open to interpretation!

  17. Theresa Ann Conner says:

    I believe that poverty under any circumstances is man-made…the other side of the coin? = we are the solution to this pressing (moral) issue.

  18. Jen says:

    Aside from a brief stint in the dole queue in the early 90s, the first time I was really taken aback by poverty was was I when I came across an indigenous mission while driving across the Nullabor plain in 1994. It’s shameful that Australia – currently number 3 on the Human Development Index still has such extreme poverty in our country.

  19. Pingback: Jen Hanrahan
  20. Pingback: brightestspark
  21. josh goldtein says:

    cross-posted on In An African Minute: http://is.gd/1BX2N

    Its been a dry rainy season in East Africa. Traveling last month in Kisumu, Kenya, I read about a Kenyan women who died of hunger while giving birth to surviving twins. Last week, newspapers in Uganda reported that 35 people died of hunger in northern Uganda. Ken Banks asks us about the elephant in the room of global poverty. To me, this is it.

  22. Pingback: Ken Banks
  23. Pingback: Ken Banks
  24. Pingback: kiwanja
  25. Pingback: MicrosoftUP
  26. Pingback: t balasubramaniam
  27. Pingback: thulasy
  28. Tonee says:

    I first saw it when I was a teenager right around the time I got out of high school and found out dreams have price tags that most people cannot overcome…because a small group can’t spell the word -VISION-. Now an even bigger group is stuck on an even worse word.. -AID-! I loved the art-work Ken.

  29. niti bhan says:

    cross posted at Perspective 2.0 The elephant is always there http://bit.ly/AXcSe

    It was a knowing thing, yet one that can, I’m ashamed to say, be cast aside quite easily when one lives in India. Else the overpowering elephant will bear heavily down on your chest with his foot until you can hardly breathe. One must learn to find a middle path between the knowing/not knowing of the disparity right outside the threshold in order to stay sane enough to survive. I believe you become more deaf and blind to it the longer you are immersed in it, contextually, this complexity just maybe a post for another day.

  30. Kathleen McMullen Novak says:

    Like Kathy Welsh, I was that girl on the couch until 2003 when I served with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I experienced the aftermath of the civil war which changed my life forever. I am no longer that girl on the couch.

  31. kiwanja says:

    Wondering whether we should have some kind of Banksy-style wall where people working in development, or ICT4D, post short messages about themselves?

    I remember a couple of years ago wondering if I should remove a lot of the ‘personal’ material from my website, but then deciding it was just as important that people know who we are, and where we come from – not just where we’re going. Understanding the people behind the posts, and the people behind the passion, is just as important as the work itself, if not more so.

  32. Juliana says:

    For me, the elephant is always in the room… leaving .ke to study in the US made it seem like it was farther away, but on a return trip to .ke in 2002 i was struck by the poverty in rural communities.

    I was attending mass, and saw this poor old woman with no shoes, making her way slowly and painfully to the altar to give her offering. She is the one in need and she still gives to the church…what had the church done lately to help her out? The elephant is always in the room, even in church.

Comments are closed.