Disclosed: A Master Class in Collaboration, Culture, and Curation

Filed to: feature

Last July, I spent a weekend in rural Wisconsin meeting artists from the ACRE residency program. In late September, I learned that I would be working with photographer, activist, and art therapist Farah Salem to collaborate on an exhibition in New York. In January, we secured the United Photo Industries gallery with an opening date set for March 5th. Six weeks to plan a solo exhibition across state lines and in between full time jobs and the ceaseless obligations of every day life. I tend to dive head first into these kinds of logistical challenges, but as a curator I’ve never faced a blank white wall in an empty gallery. The clean slate and open space of a traditional exhibition would be the real challenge.

To say I’m proud of Disclosed would be a vast understatement. I’m honored to have been trusted with this work, and with this space. I knew this work was special. I knew it would traverse cultural barriers because Salem navigates them so beautifully and thoughtfully. There is an elegance in the landscapes she chooses to pose against, and her dramatic and powerful use of the traditional ‘abaya garments are loaded with socio-cultural and historic significance. She addresses questions of space and visibility as a Muslim woman in ways that I know I can’t, but as a curator I wanted to build on those themes and ideas, creating open spaces where one could engage with the work, while intentionally obstructing others. The public versus private, what is seen and what we choose to show, how we control our own narrative, and how it can be taken away from us.

Disclosed could stand on its own as a purely photographic exhibition, but photography has become an interdisciplinary medium, and the pieces of this show reflect that. There are direct connections between the the poetry Salem reads to interrogate and untangle the role of the ‘abaya, to the garments themselves, painted with symbols that represent the rich history of Kuwait – where Salem was born – and bring a physical tangibility to the ethereal figures in her photographs posing elegantly against sweeping landscapes from the Middle East to the Midwest.

There is a clarity of purpose and a confidence of vision that I respect enormously in Salem’s work. It’s sensitive and accessible without sacrificing complexity. It challenges perspectives without isolating or alienating. It informs while inspiring curiosity. It represents everything I strive for as a curator.

Disclosed by Farah Salem is on display at the United Photo Industries Gallery through March 28. Gallery hours are Thursday-Sunday 12pm-6pm, or by appointment.