'Southern Rites' photos tackle racial tensions, inequality
For The Review, Tidings
Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education will feature Gillian Laub's "Southern Rites," a photography exhibition which examines the legacy of racism in America, Feb. 5 through May 24.
"Southern Rites" is a provocative and timely visual study of one community's struggle to confront longstanding issues of race and inequality.
The project began as an exploration of racially segregated proms and homecoming rituals in one community in rural Georgia.
Laub continued to photograph its residents for more than a decade, recording their experiences — in their own words — as she created a portrait of an American town.
In the process she investigated the racial tensions that scar much of American history. This traveling exhibition is organized by the International Center of Photography and ICP Curator Maya Benton.
In 2009, Laub's photographs of Montgomery County, Georgia, were published in the New York Times magazine, bringing national attention to the town for the first time.
The following year, the power of those photographs served as a catalyst for the integration of the town's proms. For a moment, progress seemed inevitable.
Then in 2011, the murder of an unarmed young black man by an older white man in Montgomery County seemed to confirm every assumption about the legacy of inequality and prejudice that the community was struggling to relinquish.
Laub recognized that a larger story needed to be told, and she began to film as well as photograph the changes taking place in the town — including the murder trial.
Her project, which began with an exploration of segregated high school rituals, evolved into a decade-long mandate to confront painful, deeply rooted national realities.
"This is our second partnership with ICP and we are gratified to be working with curator Maya Benton," said OJMCHE Director Judy Margles. "The photographs in 'Southern Rites' evoke multiple concerns that relate to our mission.
As Oregon's only museum tasked solely with educating the general public in discrimination, persecution, immigration and first and foremost in the Holocaust, OJMCHE connects the painful past to the relevant present. 'Southern Rites' provides the museum with the opportunities to once again teach our audiences the singular lesson that we 'minorities' are not isolated cases and that we have a responsibility to one another."
Laub has spent the last two decades investigating political conflicts, exploring complex family and community relationships, and challenging assumptions about cultural identity through her photography and filmmaking. "Southern Rites" is the culmination of that work, underscoring the hope that by examining history, future generations will liberate themselves from a harrowing and traumatic past to create a different future.
"In 'Southern Rites', Gillian engages her tremendous skills as a photographer, filmmaker and visual activist to examine the realities of racism and raise questions that are simultaneously painful and essential to understanding the American consciousness," says Maya Benton, ICP curator.
"Through her lens and the voices of her subjects we encounter that which some of us do not want to witness, but what is vital for us to see. Gillian's work explores how a generation of African American youth are grappling with the legacy of segregation and racially motivated violence, and provides an inspiring example of how concerned photography can affect social change."
OJMCHE is located at 724 N.W. Davis St., Portland. Learn more at www.ojmche.org.
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