Human Rights Human Wrongs at the Ryerson Image Centre

April 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

By Emily Butko

Recently I had the privilege of visiting the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) to see the HUMAN RIGHTS HUMAN WRONGS exhibition by guest curator Mark Sealy, located in the centre’s main gallery. 

In 2010, The RIC invited Curator Mark Sealy, to Toronto to research the school’s prestigious Black Star Collection of approximately 292,000 photojournalistic prints.  

Featuring more than 300 original prints from the Black Star Collection, HUMAN RIGHTS HUMAN WRONGS begins in 1945 and includes photographs of iconic U.S. civil-rights events, independence movements throughout Africa, Nobel Peace Prize-winners, political protests in South America and the war in Vietnam and Rwanda.

By providing bite-sized postcards for each year following the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sealy offers an in-depth historical background for the photographs. The postcards provide information on significant historical events that were simultaneously taking place throughout the world, highlighting important links between events that are frequently discussed in isolation.

Sealy’s accompanying essay, HUMAN RIGHTS AND WRONGS 1945 – 1994: THE END OF WAITING (Mining the Black Star Collection at Ryerson University) provides the viewer with a contextual framework from which to critically engage with the photos that are presented. He describes the events leading up to the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and explores the colonized subjects’ contradictory experiences of World War II, fighting against the European Axis powers’ tyranny while being subjected to European Allied forces’ racism. He describes how these conflicting positions influenced an epistemic shift away from European ideology and towards a new sense of self and political purpose, which in effect shaped the direction of independence and de-colonialist movements across the world. Sealy provides a brief but useful background on the history of photojournalism and its role in these political and racial struggles. A summary of the essay, located on the east wall of the gallery, also provides a contextual framework, from which the viewer can critically engage with the exhibit without having to read the essay that is provided in the catalogue (available to read in the gallery and for sale).

As Sealy’s essay suggests, the photographs provide a look into the 20th century that forces the viewer to consider how so much wrong has been enacted on the human body within the climate of change. The curator’s subtle reference to the 6th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law” reminds the viewer to consider whether these images of political struggle, suffering and victims of violence work for or against humanitarian objectives. The sculptural cache of every copy of the photojournalism magazine, LIFE, from 1963 – 1972, reminds us of the cultural position and disproportionate power of the Western media, and specifically, of the Western photographer.

HUMAN RIGHTS HUMAN WRONGS is on view at the Ryerson Image Centre, located at 33 Gould Street, from January 23 to April 14, 2013. 

To find out more about the Ryerson Image Centre and the Black Star Collection, visit ryerson.ca/ric

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