“The guiding principle for this exhibition is Article Six of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proposes, “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” Through this presentation, I specifically wanted to question what this human right to recognition actually means – especially today – and to make audiences really think about how such recognition is generated and controlled, particularly in terms of image production and circulation.”
– Adapted from an audio tour given by Mark Sealy at Human Rights Human Wrongs presentation at Ryerson Image Centre, Canada in 2013.
This harrowing exhibition features over 250 original press prints from the Black Star Collection of photo journalism. The exhibition aims to raise awareness of international conflict and demonstrates how such images help audiences to understand power relationships and the legacies that are produced. The exhibition also illustrates the way in which the West viewed the world and narratives that have formed.
When one enters the exhibition they are warned that it contains unsettling images. However, as I paced myself around the gallery it dawned on me that these images are no more unsettling than what we are already exposed to on a day-to-day basis from watching the news. They almost weren’t shocking at all. It should come as no surprise that we have become de-sensitized to graphic violent images, these issues have long occurred. But when I came face to face with such images, images that are meant to stop you in your tracks, it came as a surprise to myself that I approach it with such normality.
Curator Mark Sealy avoided filling the space with cliched images of conflict and chose images that represented moments of waiting. Although the typical war images are not entirely dismissed, they are dissected and used to demonstrate how stereotypes are generated. For example, the heroic Western soldier “framed like dying Christs on crosses” contrasted with the African soldier “a savage who needs to be tamed” or “a renegade who fights outside the rules of conflict.”
The ‘Jungle Photographer’ series (images of women to be sent to their partners who were away on duty) was a set I was particularly fond of as the set up reminded me of my own work on exploring the relationship between home and diaspora communities. The themes of course are somewhat different to what I had focused on but the sense of which narratives are being told and by whom seemed to correlate.