Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Art + Impact: Part 2

Common Place, currently on display on the 2nd floor at AMA, is a sociological photography exhibition created by Justine Graham and Rubie Rumié.

As our website describes: "the exhibit portrays the evolving subordinate relationship between Latin American housekeepers and their housewife employers, reflecting issues of gender, power, class and race.

Comprised of photographs, videos, and surveys of 100 women between the ages of 19 and 95, this project merges art and sociology, and explores new sensorial and emotional experiences in an attempt to discover affinities and differences among participants, separating itself from the bias and stereotypes present in hierarchical relationships. Common Place (Lugar Común) challenges conventional methods of portraiture and proposes new social constructs."

Common Place | Justine Graham and Ruby Rumié

When you first encounter the exhibit, you are not just confronted with, but pretty much slapped across the face (in a good way) with a charged social issue in South America. As someone who has never been to South America, I had a very similar first reaction seeing the work to most people I observe visiting the museum. Without reading any text or being taught anything by anyone, you immediately come to understand the relevance, importance, and how obviously underrepresented this subject must be in contemporary Latin American society. The pictures here on this blog and our website can not capture the experience of being completely inundated with these images that fill an entire room our museum.

The exhibit offers no opinions. Though the art speaks volumes in and of itself, it is without judgement or agenda. I have led some tours through the museum and I have found the experience very rewarding, particularly for this exhibit. I've seen people's eyes water up (some in loving memory of the housekeepers they grew up with, others in sadness over their personal conflict over the subject). People's reactions completely vary, ranging from curiosity to joy to revulsion. Despite what a person's reaction may be, a conversation always gets started and heated debates between visitors are common. 

Part of mission here at AMA is to create dialogue about current social issues. This exhibit presents a issue going on in parts of South America, yet is very accessible to anyone. We can all relate to the idea of “evolving subordinate relationships” we encounter in our daily lives. Though some might argue that the idea of presenting two social classes on the same level “has been done”, I have personally never seen it done in such a simple, artful, and accessible way.

Common Place | Justine Graham and Ruby Rumié

The selection of exhibits is critical to pursuing our mission as a museum. Art, as seen in Common Place, can wield great power in communicating ideas surrounding human rights, development, social class, the environment, and so on.

Next up: Educational Outreach

Friday, January 6, 2012

Art + Impact: AMA

While AMA is not a household name (yet), we actually do a lot of really interesting things outside our gallery walls.

Aside from showcasing amazing art from the Americas, we are also charged with the task of creating a positive impact in the world through our museum's mission as well as our being a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose core values are to promote human rights, democracy, justice, and security (if you don't know what the OAS is, you should look it up, it's a pretty cool institution). Our efforts in this area range from the choices we make in selected art for exhibitions to international programs to keep at-risk youth off the streets. Much of these efforts are less visible to the public, but I am going to use this platform to help shed some light on the "behind the scenes" work we are engaged in.

Not a bad neighborhood, huh?

To begin this new series, I'd like to go back a bit and talk about Tent Life: Haiti, a photo exhibition by Wyatt Gallery (a person, not a place). The show took place in the OAS | AMA F Street Gallery at 1889 F Street, NW. Though our gallery space is less known then our museum, we've been receiving quite a bit of positive press on our (usually photography) exhibitions there. Tent Life was no exception. Gallery traveled to Haiti to document the life of displaced Haitians following the devastating 2010 earthquake there.

from "Tent Life: Haiti" by Wyatt Gallery

The series of photographs range from the uplifting to the down-right depressing; however, what binds them together is a candid sense of perseverance. As the Washington City Paper put it, "is it appropriate to find transcendence in photographs of abject poverty?" It's not the kind of work that says "look at these poor, helpless people" nor does it say "look how great they're doing under horrifying conditions", rather it comes across as a well-crafted documentary and calls on the viewer to enter - and empathize with - another human being's experience. During the exhibition, and after, a book with the same title as the exhibit was - and is still - being sold to raise money to support relief efforts in Haiti and all proceeds from the book go to Haiti. The book is really beautiful, contains all the photos from the exhibit, and more photos that we didn’t have room for. (This isn’t a sales pitch, I promise. I bought one for myself. Ok, maybe a bit of a sales pitch, but it’s totally worth it.)

Exhibits like Tent Life: Haiti serve to accomplish many aspects of our mission. We are bringing talented, contemporary artists to Washington, DC, bridging cultural gaps between different cultures of the Americas, as well as promoting a positive impact in the world by creating greater awareness of social issues in our global community. The selection of artwork is probably the most basic of ways the museum accomplishes our mission.

 Next up: One of our current exhibit, Common Place...