The photographs don't shy away from their respective subject matters - depicting political and social wrongdoings and violence affecting country after country, individual after individual. SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) features several still and moving photography pieces in its exhibits covering stories of the conflicts in Central America and about the Kurdish genocide, along with, accounts from victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Traversing all seven floors of the museum, I found myself most drawn to three exhibits: Nothing Stable under Heaven, Susan Meiselas' Meditations, and Selves and Others. While reflecting on my interest in those specific galleries, I realized that what connects them is the power of the narrative, which the curation highlights. All three exhibits feature a combination of primary and secondary sources pieced together to elicit emotion from the viewer.
Artifact-based museums tend to interest me more than purely art museums, and I could not come to a conclusion as to why that is until I visited SFMOMA. This was the first art museum that held my attention and curiosity through a majority of the levels. After reflecting, I realized that this was because I actually learned some new things, and my thinking was challenged. Artifact-based museums inherently broaden both historical knowledge and our scope of understanding other peoples. Especially the above-named exhibits integrated both visual art and artifacts from conflicts and personal accounts which created a larger narrative.
Nothing Stable Under Heaven includes a short film by Arthur Jafa called Love is The Message, The Message is Death. The short features scenes of contemporary black culture juxtaposed with black history in America. Most of the footage, itself, was footage that I was either exposed to in my education or is a part of American culture that I have experienced. However, the editing and incorporation of different elements of footage enhanced the narrative and brought most of the audience members to tears.
The same effect is captured in both Susan Meiselas' Meditations, and Selves and Others. Both include statements and belongings of those affected by the respective conflicts. Because of this, the audience better understands the experiences of the subjects in the artwork. Also, the artwork seems more meaningful because one can directly understand the impact on the lives of the individuals.
The choice to arrange and present the particular works in SFMOMA speaks to the importance of storytelling as a teaching device. People react when their emotions are engaged, and they feel compelled to care about an issue that may not personally affect them. I hope that these exhibits in SFMOMA and exhibits like them will encourage visitors to take a more active and effective role in empathizing with the people around them.