By Troy Hasselman, February 6 2019—
Walled Off: The Politics of Containment, an exhibition showcasing photographs about containment, detention and human rights, opened on Feb. 1 at the Founders’ Gallery at The Military Museums as part of the Exposure Photography Festival.
The exhibit examines well-known examples of detainment and separation through a series of photo essays. Edmund Clark’s Letters to Omar focuses on Omar Deghayes, who spent six years in captivity in Guantanamo Bay. In the Shadow of Trump’s Wall by Peter van Agtmael documents border communities along the Mexican border. And Paula Luttringer’s The Wailing of the Walls tells first-hand accounts of detainees in secret prisons set up by the Argentine military dictatorship during the Dirty War. Among other pieces on display, these essays illustrate the issues of separation and control at the core of the exhibit.
The photographs take a documentary-style approach to these places and focus on the individuals present in these spaces as opposed to the wider political conditions that led to their creation, making use of testimonials to tell the human stories of these events, which are all too often looked at as mere statistics.
“We were thinking about that issue of incarceration. How might we put together something that speaks to that issue and its complexity?” says exhibit curator Dona Schwartz. “Then, you look at the work itself and what it brings and how it speaks on this issue.”
While the theme of incarcerations is clearly exhibited through photo essays, the gallery also focuses on more abstract concepts of imprisonment.
“Refugee camps aren’t prisons but they contain people in the same way. They are meant to be temporary but are still containers for people,” Schwartz explains. “I thought about the border wall and the controversy that is the border wall. It is connected to the whole set of ideas explored here. The idea of containing a country, making a border wall so you create a container for people who live in one nation and are separate from people who live in another. It seemed like a broader, more abstract version of the same thing.”
While the border wall and refugee camps have been highly relevant in the headlines over the last several years, Schwartz says that this is a coincidence.
“It’s kind of an oddity that the whole border wall issue is a huge controversy right now,” she says. “I did not anticipate that and when I looked at Peter van Agtmael’s work, it seemed kind of out of left field in relation to the other projects.”
Walled Off: The Politics of Containment runs until May 20 at the Founders’ Gallery. More information for events at the Founders’ Gallery can be found on their page on The Military Museum’s website.