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Christina Clusiau

2003 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow / Laura Musser Fellow
Fellowship Site: Maryknoll Thailand, Bangkok, Thailand

By Pat McGroarty


“When you see a photograph of something you haven’t seen before, it brings your eyes to the people that are affected. It’s not just a snap shot of something. It brings the humanity of the situation to the forefront,” said Christina Clusiau while discussing her work as a 2003 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow and the possibilities of working for social justice and human rights through photography.

Clusiau graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 2003 and moved to Minneapolis for several months before leaving for her Fellowship in November of 2003. “I spent three months in Bangkok working for an organization called Maryknoll Thailand. It’s an organization working with poor and conflict communities. Thailand is a non-conflict nation, but it’s surrounded by Burma, Laos, and Cambodia which are all conflict nations. Many refugees go through Thailand in hopes of resettlement in countries such as New Zealand and Australia. My Fellowship involved teaching English to Buddhist monks from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, and spending time with refugees from various parts of the world,” explained Clusiau. “Thailand is not a signatory of the Geneva Convention, and these refugees come without understanding what that means for them. Some have traveled to two or three countries before arriving in Thailand, where they are labeled as illegal aliens and end up in refugee camps or moved to the city and struggle to survive. There’s no one to help them except a few small NGO’s like Maryknoll Thailand.”

In addition to the work Clusiau was doing as an English tutor, she found a way to incorporate her passion for photography into her time in Thailand: “The idea to use my photography of the trip as an expo was always in the back of my head, but it’s all starting to come together now. I want to present the photographs as a piece on what it means to wait in a refugee situation, and I really think it could develop into something powerful.”

Clusiau’s use of photography as a social statement began long before her 2003 Fellowship. During her sophomore year of college, Clusiau spent her spring break on a service trip to Creative Community for Non-Violence and the Atlantic Community for Peaceful Protest, both located in Washington D.C. It was during this trip that her interest in documenting social issues through photography really came to life.

While living in Minneapolis last summer before leaving for her Fellowship, Clusiau took a Community Photography class at Minneapolis College of Art and Design focusing on the issue of “Lives of the Working Poor.” “The Community Photography class has really developed into a network of artists working for social change called Overexposure. We produced a documentary photography piece on Minnesota’s working poor. These are people who are working hard, but who just aren’t making it with their jobs.”

Since returning from her Fellowship, Clusiau has moved back to Minneapolis and is again working with several local organizations where she can integrate photography and social justice advocacy: “I’m working with Overexposure again, and we’re doing a project called “Get out the Vote” this summer. I’m hoping to find a position where I can use documentary photography to show what people are doing to promote advocacy, human rights, and voting issues.”

Clusiau will also be working at the Human Rights Center, where she will coordinate the photography and video portions of the 15th Anniversary Project, as well as film video pieces for the Human Rights Curriculum Project. She has considered entering a Masters Degree program in art and photography, and intends to keep working with photography as a method of social change.

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