The Chrysler Museum of Art has an extensive collection of 30,000 items; 5,000-6,000 of these items are photographs. Joan and Macon Brock curator of American art Alex Mann has put together a new exhibit, 44 photos and six magazine spreads, titled “Women and the Civil Rights Movement.” The exhibit has been on display since June 14 and will remain through October. It features the works of Danny Lyon, Charles Moore, Ernest C. Withers and other notable photographers.
Mann noted a lack of appreciation for women’s work in museums and the art world. He said he wanted to remedy that a bit through this exhibit by drawing attention to important female photographers, such as Maria Varela. He also said he wants people to begin seeing everyday life within the Civil Rights movement, rather than just a series of events.
This is expressed through pieces such as “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Enjoying Lunch with his Family After Church” by Benedict J. Fernandez.
Another goal of Mann’s in creating the exhibit is, in his eyes, the job of every curator: help spectators discover how they approach each art piece.
Perspectives on artwork have always been a way to spark conversation and change. This rang true during the Civil Rights movement, and actually became the main use of photographs. Photographs created a call to action, raising awareness in the north of what was happening in the south. The pieces of art reflect the attitude of the photographers and the intention of their work; many of the photos are sympathetic and biased toward activists.
Photographs were a large part of the movement itself.
According to Mann, this was largely due to the spread of photojournalism and documentary photography. In the 1930s, photographers used documentary photography to capture the essence of the Great Depression in America. Many elements of the Great Depression’s photos were considered unique and powerful for the time, inspiring photographers in the Civil Rights era to utilize those aspects.
Many photographs within the exhibit depict the role of women. One of them was Fannie Lou Hamer: She was willing to testify the treatment of black people at the Democratic National Convention. They were given no seats or place at the convention itself. As a result of her testimony, she lost her job. Without a job, she was evicted and then later beaten in jail.
Every photo in the gallery has its own story behind it, much like the piece that Danny Lyon captured involving Hamer’s eviction. By sharing these stories, they become larger than one person. Due to a photo taken at the March Against Fear, a movement that James Meredith began alone turned into a movement involving thousands.
Even today, civil rights are a prominent topic of discussion.
“The volume of comments is great compared to other exhibitions,” Mann said.
Mann said that the timing of the exhibit was coincidental, but he hopes that it will allow voters to question and compare the current rights of black people and women to previous times.