Nishat Choudhury

Perpetual Revolution: Social Movements Captured Within One Blink of an Eye



The International Center of Photography has taken up a challenge to give its viewers the chance to immerse themselves in the social injustices that plague our world. The Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change exhibition takes a few of the most urgent social injustices, movements and showcases them with the use of various forms of art media such as video footage, pictures, and sculpture. The main purpose of this exhibition was to provide museumgoers with a brief introduction to social injustices and movements so that they are sparked with the interest to go home and do research on their own and ponder on the bigger aspect of these issues. Although it seems as if the curators and artists of this exhibition tried to give brief introductions to the issues they gave spotlight to, it seemed like the overall exhibition was put together very heedlessly. Museumgoers were offered a glimpse into heavy issues but rather were left with more questions than answers. Spotlights were given to the LGBTQ+ community, the black community, the refugee crisis, the global warming crisis, propaganda, and ISIS. In this essay I will take a closer look into the mini-exhibits that revolved around the LGBTQ+, the black community, and the refugee crisis. After leaving the ICP, these three mini-exhibits left me with more questions rather than answers and I will attempt to understand and critic these specific displays.

The Refugee crisis was displayed on the first floor of the ICP, and was the second issue museumgoers walk into on their journey through the ICP halls. The walls of this specific room not only consisted of images from the current Syrian Refugee crisis but also seemed to consist of images of refugees from different time periods as well. The piece that stood out was the large-scale photograph that was split into nine smaller boxes. It was a piece by Sergey Ponomarev that captured refugees that were on a boat struggling to keep their balance and arrive on shore. This piece was called, ‘Refugees Arrive By A Turkish Boat Near The Village Of Skala, On The Greek Island Of Lesbos’. Three men are in the water, pulling a boat that consists of roughly about twelve people. One woman is clutching onto her belongings, while another is bundled up in white cloth. A shirtless boy is throwing what seems to be a possession of his, while there are men on the boat that can barely stand due to the crowdedness. This photograph captures the urgency and desperation that every single refugee is faced with. The artist’s choice to separate the photograph into 9 smaller boxes allows the viewers to focus on each part of the photograph rather than digesting everything at once. Our eyes have the pleasure of marveling at each angle of the frame. This gives almost every subject in the photograph a chance to be seen a few seconds longer, viewers give each refugee a story in their own heads. The refugee exhibit mostly consisted of pictures like this one, which lead to a gloomy feeling. I think the quote that Susan Sontag writes in On Photography, “Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it”(Sontag, Susan. On Photography, page 175), perfectly embodies this entire mini-exhibition on the refugee crisis. We are continuously hearing about the refugee crisis, we read about it and we discuss it amongst our friends and colleagues. However, we never truly understand that there are real people behind this crisis that are affected by this issue. Real photographs and real faces only allow for a human being to truly understand and grasp the intensity of a situation and this exhibition does a great job in introducing this idea of empathy and sympathy for the refugee crisis that one might not have if they are not exposed to photography such as this one. The refugee crisis room was the only one in the exhibit that had many photographs in which museumgoers could fully engross however, it still seemed rushed and a lot of the photos were not as interconnected as they could have been.

When you make your way down the steep stairs at the ICP you find yourself in a room of celebration and joy. The LGBTQ+ room was filled with photography and videography revolved on the aspect of self-love for the LGBTQ+ community. There were many tablets mounted on the wall that displayed instagram accounts in which viewers can simply swipe left or right to view content. There were televisions that displayed dancing, vogueing, music videos, and monologues. One photograph that captured my attention was ‘Queer Icons’ by Gabriel Garcia Roman. There were four paintings mounted on the wall, which consisted of famous queer icons with colorful backdrops and a golden halo around their heads. Queer Icons included Jennicet Eva Gutierrez, an undocumented trans Latina activist and Kia Labeija, a HIV/AIDS activist. These were only two out of the four that were displayed. The space was somewhat open and there were walls in the middle of the floor with works on either side of the wall. It was interesting to see that this exhibit consisted of not only pictures but plenty of videography as well. There was one video that particularly caught me eye, which was the “I Want a Dyke for President”. In this video, Mykki Blanco lays an outline for Blanco’s idea of the perfect president. Before watching this video it had not really occurred to me to connect issues that were so important to the LGBTQ+ community so directly and personally to a presidential candidate. One thing that was very off-putting for me was the fact that many of the pieces in the exhibit were pieces that could easily be found online with a few internet searches, clicks of the mouse pad, and taps of the phone screen. Instagram accounts and the music video by Young M.A ‘OOOUUU’ were displayed on tablets and one of the television screens. Of course this music video was by a New York City native and queer artist is important to an exhibition like this one, but it was interesting to see that content like this is free on the web, however, there are people that pay the museum fee of $14 to see it in a museum. There were so many pieces like this and so many pictures that only offered a small glimpse into the LGBTQ+ community that it was a bit overwhelming to see so many similar pieces. It seemed to just be a flood of images and video content. Viewers have the option to get a brief look into this issue however; it does not capture many of the issues that the LGBTQ+ community faces. Sarah Sontag writes in On Photography, “It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power” (Sontag, Susan. On Photography, page 176). I think that a lot of the pieces in this exhibition were created as a way to express, distress and shed a more playful light on an issue such as LGBTQ+ rights.

Lastly, in the nook of the entire museum is the Black Lives (Have Always) Mattered section. This room is painted black, and very dark when you enter it. A movie is projected onto one of the walls. Another wall is stacked with photography from what seemed like the top of the wall to the bottom. One of the photographs that caught my eye was ‘Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery’ by Charles Moore. There were tons of pictures mounted on this wall but this one image stood out the most because it seems as if it could be a picture that was taken today, especially because we are in the middle of a very tense time in our country due to race relations. The focal point is a young black boy with his face painted white. The words vote is sprawled on his forehead and he is smiling. He is walking alongside other members of his community and a white man. The young man behind him also seems to be smiling. It’s interesting to see these young boys smiling in the face of trouble and despair. They are walking for their voting rights and yet they seem to be without a care in the world. There are so many other subjects in the photo but the young man in the middle is striking and you cannot seem to look elsewhere. The reason this photo is so interesting to me is the fact that it could have been a picture taken from the 2016 election year and I would not have second-guessed it. That is the power of photography. A photograph has the power to immerse you into a specific time period, one that may not even be near your own. This particulate mini-exhibit was over crowded with photos. Many of the photos were relevant however; there were many ones that did not necessarily have to be put in the show. Viewers leave this particular exhibition feeling a bit gloomy because of the dark walls and the overwhelming amount of pictures that sit almost on top of each other on one of the walls. Not enough of these photographs had descriptions either so museumgoers very much had to assume the storyline behind a lot of the photographs presented in this particular section of the museum.

All in all, this museum is a very good way to get viewers interested in certain topics and also to spark those initial interests that some may need in order to go home and conduct their own research. The museum tried their best to address many topics that are important in our world but it just seemed a little over the top and overwhelming. The museum tried to give brief introductions to these issues and hopefully museumgoers were curious enough to go learn more about these issues on their own. It is interesting to see that this museum only reaches out to an audience that can afford to buy tickets. A lot of the people that are ignorant to these issues need to go to a place where all the information is given since they will not seek the information out themselves. The overall feel that I understood after attending this museum was that the museumgoers were going to be people that already understood the urgency of the issues and content that was displayed at the museum. The artists and curators attempted to cram all the information they could about these issues into the small space they were provided and although they did a good job overall, it just seemed that the exhibit could have done better had they spent a little more time deciding what was the most necessary pieces and which subtopics they could have expanded on with in depth descriptions.