Earlier this month, an academic at Istanbul’s Technical University left her office and was brutally tear-gassed by police along her way to Gezi Park. Captured by a Reuters photographer, the images went viral, making the “woman in red” a symbol for the Occupy Gezi movement.
A new exhibit closer to home testifies to the power of such images. Focused on human rights struggles in America, “ART & PROTEST: Images of Peace, Protest and Human Rights,” at the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center uptown, features symbolic gestures of protest depicted in photographs and mixed media by 16 artists.
TV screens on the ground floor play slideshows of images of Malcolm X crusading for human rights in the ’60s, while the main exhibit space displays photographs of Vietnam War protesters. But contemporary issues such as terrorism and immigration also take center stage. Ocean Morisset’s untitled 2013 photograph shows a protester marching through the streets of New York City holding a sign that says “Kick Hamas’ ass.” Jewel Shears’ 2012 photograph, “Immigrants Protesting at DNC Charlotte, NC,” shows a group of Hispanic protesters holding up signs that say “undocumented.”
The exhibit’s breadth is its strongest point. With rare images of the most revolutionary moments in American history, the exhibit provides compelling reminders of the ways in which both the individual and collective efforts of protesters have shaped the United States and continue to do so today.
The exhibit “does not show a definitive view of protest,” Mark Harding, director of the Shabazz Center, said at the opening reception on June 3. Instead, it shows a spectrum of “different views and energies” of the fight for human rights.
Despite the exhibit’s diversity, all of its images manage to capture a deep sense of intimacy among protesters and establish a sense of closeness with the viewer. The focus of the photos creates a tangible sense of the joy, pain, struggles, and violence that accompanied these various movements. This effect is powerful and is a large part of what makes the exhibit worth seeing.
“ART & PROTEST” runs through Aug. 18. The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center is located at 3940 Broadway (between 165th and 166th streets). The center is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free.