|BORN INVISIBLE © Sheila McKinnon|
It has been over a month since our last post. Our fantastic intern Caelan Fortes visited this exhibit in Rome. Here is what she has to say about it:
“BORN INVISIBLE” is an exhibition of Italy-based Canadian photographer Sheila McKinnon, featuring fifty photographs and a video presentation. The selection aims to highlight the ongoing debate about women’s rights and social injustice. Through photographs of young girls and women, “BORN INVISIBLE” comments on the “heredity of silence [by capturing] the inaudible presence of voiceless girls and women, phantom beings whose lives are often decided without their consent.”
Adamant that photography goes farther than documentation, McKinnon’s works are not simply portraits of these young girls, but striking depictions of their situations and their plights. As she notes in her video presentation, McKinnon realized she “could speak with [her] camera and they couldn’t speak for themselves.” The presentation is far from pretentious; it is an important and beautifully presented social commentary on a very real humanitarian problem.
What is unique to McKinnon is the purposeful composition of her pictures. To call her photographs “poignant” is an understatement. Her manipulation of color and juxtaposition of light and dark is stunning. As with a map, McKinnon deciphers her compositional elements in the video presentation. Squares and rectangles indicate protection; inverted colors indicate the variability of the exterior; lit faces indicate an emphasis on the heart. There is nothing haphazard about McKinnon’s work; each photograph is infused with meaning.
Most poignant to me, and noted far before I’d stumbled upon the presentation, was the depiction of the girls in medias res. In nearly every photograph, the subjects are holding onto an object in some way. While working with the girls, McKinnon remarks in her video presentation, she observed the connectedness they had to both other people and to their livelihood. Thus, it was important for her that the girls not be isolated from their environment, but instead immortalized in action. I found this particularly stirring. These girls, though voiceless and paralyzed figuratively by forces beyond their control, are not idle. Sheila, too, is not idle in observing their suffering, and she is calling on us to also not stand as idle bystanders to these social injustices.
In comparison to the other photography exhibit in the Museo di Roma, which focused on refugees, BORN INVISIBLE stands out because of it is subtleties. Sheila McKinnon has taken what is undoubtedly agonizing adversity and an ostensibly permanent condition and presented it in a gentle, sometimes playful way. The exhibit is not explicitly pain-centric; the girls are not injured, suffering, or tortured. In fact, most are smiling and their actions joyful. McKinnon does not go for the “money shot” in a series of histrionic images meant to force empathy out of the viewer. Instead she depicts the quotidian. It is this nuance that struck me the hardest. This humanitarian problem, for us an abstract third party to read and sympathize with, is embedded in the lives of these girls. It does not discriminate whether they are suffering or whether they are content. It is in this way, though, that a viewer can understand how deeply these injustices permeate the lives of McKinnon’s subjects. In her video presentation, McKinnon lectures, “what we choose to see with our eyes is only an illusion.” I think her exhibition really touches on the fallibility of perception. A smiling girl going about her life and a voiceless girl deprived of basic human rights are not mutually exclusive.
“BORN INVISIBLE” is a perfect testament to the varied ways advocacy can manifest itself. Public protests, fundraisers, and the ilk serve the same purpose; however, McKinnon chooses to draw attention to a deserving issue through art. With her photography as the illuminating spokesperson of the suffering of these girls, art becomes the liaison of voiceless victims, giving them presence and importance. A contemporary Dorothea Lange of the third world, Sheila McKinnon epitomizes advocacy in art - observing a problem, acting on it, and creating an awareness of it in an impactful, eloquent, and moving way.
While exploring the beautiful neighborhood of Trastevere and all its shops and restaurants, allow yourself a pit stop to the Museo di Roma in Trastevere. Tickets are only 7.5 euros, with a reduced fee of 6.5. This wonderful exhibition is on view until September 28!
Museo di Roma in Trastevere,
Piazza S. Egidio 1B,