Gabriele Galimberti’s Toy Stories

Galimberti’s “Toy Stories” study, which sought to document what children claim as their prized toy possessions in different countries, brings forth a number of thoughts and questions. The images very clearly demonstrate a difference in wealth, living standards, and perhaps cultural values in the countries/region represented. While the children presented from India, Italy (Montecchio), and China clearly have more material possessions and a higher standard of living, in terms of economics, than the children presented from Morocco and Kenya, what is more interesting is the items themselves. Only one child, the boy from Morocco, has included books in the group of his most prized toy possessions. The two children who have only one toy in their pictures, each have stuffed toys (and both happen to be monkeys), the type of toy typically associated with comfort. The boy from the Ukraine has toy guns, the girl from Italy (Castiglion Fiorentino) standing in a barn has toy gardening tools, and the girl from Albania is standing a room decked out in pink, princesses, and dolls.

I have to wonder how each of these children were chosen, how they were asked to present their favorite toys, and how representative each child truly is of his/her country/region. The pictures that Galimberti presents are extremely powerful, and have the potential to be simplified by an unquestioning audience into definitions of childhood in each particular country/region. While the images are extremely powerful, I worry that they have the power to subconsciously present all Ukrainian children (and their parents) as children bred for war, and all Albanian girls as girly and frilly. Having seen a number of children’s rooms in the United States (including my brother’s and my own) I can say with certainty that not all American children have dinosaur themed rooms and tons of dinosaur toys. Galimberti certainly does not present his collection of portraits as definition of childhood for different countries—in fact he emphasized the vast similarities between the children and their relationship with toys and play. Nonetheless, it should be emphasized that these children are individual examples, and should not serve to be representations of their entire countries—after all, they are only just learning what it means to be themselves.

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