The old-fashioned face of Maria, the four-year-old found in a Roma settlement in the Greek town of Farsala. Not pinched by poverty: cheeks almost chubby. But the eyes are half-cowed and half-bullish; same with the set of the mouth. Maria’s tight-lipped half-smile is daring and humble at the same time. She looks partly like an archive photo from Victorian London; though compared to Dickens’ Little Nell she’s more bolshie and much less sentimentalised.
Who is Maria? Disregarding everything except her expression, she might be the twin sister of the truculent boy who used to be the pin-up for Track Records, photographed with what appeared to be – shock! horror! – a massive joint in his hand.
All around the world there is shock! horror! at Maria’s ash blond hair versus the uniform of gypsy poverty she is dressed in. Cheap blue trainers, grey leggings and matching top, plain white vest poking out from underneath; grubby fingers and plaits seemingly dipped in something darker. Oil, perhaps; to keep the nits away?
Excited by the prospect of her having been abducted or trafficked, charity officials and social workers are buzzing around Maria like flies. She may be better off as a result of their intervention, away from the non-stop giggle-gaggle of excitable children in the Roma settlement; and the equally excitable adults. But there are numerous, negative side-effects of the institutional process she’s now being entered into. Who knows if it’s for the best?
And who knows why young girls’ faces are writ so large? Western media have just met a girl called Maria, and the sudden elevation of her face follows on from their ongoing adoration of Maddie McCann. Meanwhile as part of the Belfast Festival, the face of a six-year-old female has just been ploughed into an 11-acre field. Two thousand tonnes of sand, two thousand tonnes of earth and a shed load of satellite technology – all in order to mark out a young girl’s face across the land.
Marked? Touched? Getting out of hand?