Local photographer Brad Horrigan recently traveled to Nicaragua and brought back these photos, which are part of an exhibition about to open at the Institute Library AT 847 Chapel St. The exhibition’s title: “Bittersweet: Dying in the Nicaraguan Sugar Fields.” Horrigan contributed the following write-up about his experience.
Updated post-storm note: The opening reception is now rescheduled for Saturday, Feb. 16, from 5-7 p.m. The exhibition is also open for viewing from Feb. 9 - 23, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.A book of the exhibition photographs will be available for purchase, withproceeds benefiting the New Haven Leon Sister City Project.
I learned about the chronic kidney disease epidemic in Nicaragua through the New Haven-Leon Sister City Project in late 2010. I was struck by the high incidence of renal failure near the sugarcane fields and very shortly thereafter made the trip to see for myself.
It is not difficult to find those affected in communities adjacent to sugarcane—communities like Goyena and Chichigalpa, where I photographed. I photographed former sugarcane workers (many ostensibly healthy) who have been laid off from their jobs in the fields or at the refinery, widows and mothers of the deceased, even residents who show similar symptoms of renal problems. Despite the inability of a Boston University study to connect the pesticides to this health crisis, many believe that there is a connection. I am hardly a scientist, but I find it hard to believe that these agrichemicals played no role in this epidemic.
The warmth and strength of the Nicaraguans I met is remarkable. Despite their often dire situations, they remain optimistic and continue to do all that they can for their families. They have taught me much about what it really means to be a human being. And this project has taught me, once again, that whether or not the pesticides are to blame in this specific instance, we need as a society to take serious looks at organic alternatives before we spray massive amounts of chemicals simply to improve the bottom line. The bottom line is that it is unacceptable to put the sugarcane profits ahead of the well being of the Nicaraguan people.