Exhibition Review: On Freedom at Aperture Gallery
By Katie Heiserman
Aperture’s expansive Summer Open On Freedom includes over one hundred photographs responding to the four freedoms President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of in his 1941 State of the Union Address: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. While the show includes dozens of contributing artists, ten are prominently featured on the gallery’s peripheral walls, where a handful of pieces from larger projects by the artists are on view. As a collection of stand-alone photographic studies on a range of social and political issues, the exhibition as a whole feels both tremendous and stark.
Noritaka Minami’s California City, California includes four black-and-white aerial photographs of what was once a highly anticipated metropolis, but fell far short of real estate developers’ expectations. These sterile, geometric images serve as an introduction to the show - a metaphor for unfulfilled freedoms. More concrete visual studies of Guantánamo Bay, police violence, surveillance technology, refugees and migrants, debt, LGBTQ discrimination, poverty and drug addiction, dwindling access to women’s health care, systemic racism, and the oversimplification of contentious issues through patriotic symbolism follow. While visually and topically diverse, all of the abridged exhibitions seem to share an interest in capturing unmediated truths. With minimal creative interpretation by the artists, these works are joyless and, most-importantly, they are real.
Brittany M. Powell’s subject-oriented series, The Debt Project, includes lackluster portraits of ordinary people burdened by debt. Jared Thorn’s photographs of Ohio’s twenty-six Planned Parenthoods are similarly straightforward. But in both the mundanity is extremely powerful, the message being: “Look at this. See this.” Jon Henry’s Stranger Fruit, which focuses on the grieving mothers of black men murdered by police officers, is comprised of six enactment portraits of women posing with their dead sons. The photographs are uniformly composed with the mothers positioned front and center, eyes on the camera, and the sons lying limp in their arms or flat on the ground. Though staged, the photographs are minimally stylized. Instead, they are prying in their simplicity.
The final project, Daesha Devón Harris’ Just Beyond The River, brings the exhibition full circle. Harris explores systemic racism and the mythic American Dream with colorfully collaged archival photographs of unidentified African American subjects. Harris brilliantly etches barely legible sentences onto each glass frame, seemingly representing the unspoken thoughts or barely audible voices of the oppressed. One frame reads, “I tire so of hearing people say Let Things Take Their Course,” bringing us right back to Minami’s figurative birds-eyes.