The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale’s first exhibit of the semester aims to celebrate ethnic features that have historically been portrayed in a negative light.
“Features in Focus,” an exhibit by Anna Meixler ’16, showcases roughly 100 black and white photographs of African-American and Jewish students’ eyes, hair, noses and lips. It will open in the Slifka Center’s Allan and Leah Rabinowitz Gallery on Wednesday. In the exhibit wall text Meixler wrote that the show will attempt to “present an objective record to counter a cruel, licentious visual history.”
“I didn’t want to obscure or abstract their features in any way,” Meixler said in an email. “I thought the use of black and white photos was a more direct way to transmit visual information.”
Meixler said the exhibit began as a final project for “American Artists and the African American Book,” an American Studies class she took last semester. She was intrigued by the caricatured, propagandist portrayals of African Americans and Jews, she said, and has attempted to capture facial features that have often been exaggerated in racist propaganda. She noted that although her work usually tends towards the disciplines of drawing and painting, she chose to use photography for this work in order to ensure that the representations are entirely authentic, citing photographer Lorna Simpson’s “Details” as an influence.
The exhibit’s three curators — Caroline Sydney ’16, Rebecca Levinsky ’15 and Danny Roza ’15, a current Production and Design editor for the News — organized the show as part of their Blanksteen fellowships, which they all received for the summer of 2013. The fellowship enables Yale students to do curatorial work at the Jewish Museum in New York City during the summer and culminates with the fellows curating an exhibit at Slifka.
Levinsky, a former Production and Design editor for the News, noted that the exhibit is meant to spark a dialogue about the way people look at each other.
“We hope it will get people thinking about the ethics of some of these portrayals and how we consider people in our society,” she said.
Levinsky said she thinks the exhibit’s location will also contribute to the growing dialogue, since Slifka is known as a safe place where it is acceptable to have conversations about sensitive subjects such as race.
While putting her show together, Meixler said she photographed 36 African-American and Jewish students who she thought would be interested in participating. Sydney, one of the curators and an opinion columnist for the News, was also photographed for the exhibition.
“It makes you think about your identity,” she said “It does make me feel aware of what people see when they see me in these little details.”
Following the tradition of Slifka’s past student-curated exhibits, “Features in Focus” will include an interactive element to further engage viewers in the dialogue the images aim to raise. On the day of the opening, exhibit attendees will have the opportunity to take pictures of their own features on Polaroid cameras provided by the curators. These photos will then be put up on a wall in the gallery.
“Everyone’s features have messages and implications and identity attached to them,” Sydney said. “Giving people the opportunity to include themselves in this presentation is part of what we want to do with the show.”
“Features in Focus” will remain on display in the Slifka Center until mid-October.