Susan Meiselas, Sandinistas at the wall of the National Guard headquarters, Esteli, Nicaragua, 1979, chromogenic print. Collection, International Center of Photography. © Susan Meiselas/Magnum
“There’s a very subtle difference between going to a place because one is ‘concerned’ and becoming ‘concerned’ through the process of engagement.”*
Over one hundred documentary photographs, films, and archival collections by Susan Meiselas are presented in the major exhibition Susan Meiselas: In History (April 10–June 20), on loan to the Hood Museum of Art from the International Center of Photography, New York. Meiselas has explored photography’s potential as a tool of connection and engagement over the course of three decades. An open-ended process of inquiry about political and social conditions has led her to discovery, then to documentation, and only then to the public presentation of the record of this process—that is, her photographs. In so doing, she has both drawn attention to embattled people’s experiences around the world and given back to those people she has photographed, creating ongoing relationships that define her as one of the most socially committed photographers of our time.
The Hood Museum of Art chose to present this exhibition at Dartmouth College because of the resonance that Susan Meiselas’s story—her commitment to human rights and activism, her engagement with the ethics of documentary photography, and her response to self-reflection—has with the values of the college and its students. Her work exemplifies the expectations for Dartmouth students that Jim Yong Kim articulated upon becoming president of the college: that they lead with “vision, passion, humility, and determination.” Meiselas has tackled the world’s problems through her embrace of those living with them: women working as strippers for traveling carnivals (1972–76); a population striving for change though revolution in Nicaragua (1978–2004); and the Kurds in Iraq, people who have been without a homeland (or their human rights) since World War I (1991–today).
Meiselas has never been a casual observer or neutral bystander. Her carnival strippers project began with a chance visit that developed into trusting relationships, and then to photographs. Today, nearly forty years later, she still corresponds with several of the women. Likewise, after two years photographing the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, she stayed in contact with those people when she set out on a new assignment. Her work documenting the mass killings by Saddam Hussein resulted in a project with the Kurdish people that remains ongoing.
As a result, her photographs have been embraced by those she photographed in astonishing ways: Sandinistas at the wall of the National Guard headquarters became an icon of pride and resistance for Nicaraguans, and in 2008, Kurds in Iraq ordered five thousand copies of the reprint of her 1997 book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History.
The exhibition presents three distinct bodies of work from the past thirty-eight years.
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College
*All quotes are by Susan Meiselas from interviews transcribed in the exhibition catalogue that were conducted by Kristen Lubben, Associate Curator at the International Center of Photography and curator of the exhibition.
Last Updated: 3/8/10