This morning I finished putting together slides of some of my photography, uploaded a short bio to a shared dropbox folder and timed myself while going through my talking points. I’m ready for my eight minutes of fame!
I’m pleased to be participating in the Visual Activism symposium organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the International Association for Visual Culture this Friday and Saturday. Because the museum is closed for renovations for several years, the MOMA is organizing off-site events under the label of “SF MOMA On the Go.” This event will be held at the Brava Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. I’ve been told it is an “antique” theater originally designed for Vaudeville performances, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.
I’ll be on the first panel, “Environment, Justice, Inequity.” Come say hello if you see me there! I’ll show a few photos and talk about how I engage the following themes in the Voices from the Valley project about environmental justice activism in California’s San Joaquin Valley:
- Making the invisible visible
- Rethinking the rural pastoral
- Everyday life, everyday politics
- Tragedy and hope
My former student Mia Renauld recently sent me a link to a great post by Tim de Chant on his blog Per Square Mile. It features side by side aerial images of poor and wealthy neighborhoods in the same city. He got the images from Google Earth and invited his readers to do the same and send in what they came up with. The result is a study in contrasts – the wealthy neighborhoods have dramatically more tree coverage than the poor neighborhoods.
I thought these paired images would be great to use in teaching environmental justice and inequality. Poor communities of color have a disproportionate burden of pollution as compared to wealthier, whiter communities. They also have fewer environmental amenities like parks, sidewalks, and the trees in these photos. See the photos from two neighborhoods in and next to Oakland below, or click on over to Tim’s post for more.
In an introductory class I might show both images without their neighborhood names and ask students to tell me which community they think is wealthier, and discuss why. Or I might ask them to go home and bring in their own side-by-side images from other places to share. Or I might just add them to a powerpoint as a visual example of environmental inequality.
I recently visited the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. for the first time. My favorite parts were the depictions of each tribe’s community curators. I’d heard before going that this museum does a great job of portraying Native American culture and history from the perspective of Native Americans themselves instead of from the perspective of outside observers, as has so often been the case. It reminded me a bit of one of the small town museums I visited in Mexico in 2006 that was part of the Union of Community Museums of Oaxaca. One historic photograph on display stood out in particular. It depicted a handful of local residents in a large city, perhaps with rugs in hand, accompanied by a white woman. The caption was an inversion of what one would typically see in a different setting. Instead of naming the white woman and representing her as the discoverer of the local artisans, it named the locals and described how they took their arts out into the world, accompanied by a nameless white woman. I loved it!
The community curator profiles at the Museum of the American Indian give some insight into how the exhibits came together, and did a nice job of personalizing the individual tribes. It must have been hard to figure out which people, and tribes, to feature in such a high-profile space.
I was also intrigued by the children’s zone in the museum. I love that the interactive features shown below teach children to understand Native Americans as multifaceted members of contemporary society by showing them in a variety of clothing styles that the viewers can mix and match. From what I saw they were very popular exhibits with the kids! On the other hand, turning Native youth into objects for viewers to play with made me a little uncomfortable.