UK Art Museum, Lexington
116 Singletary Center
artist / participant
Photojournalist Susan Meiselas has never been content with the easy answer or the image that lies too close to the surface. A passion for human rights is at the center of her work—whether she is telling the story of carnival strippers who exist as a living sideshow at county fairs, or uncovering evidence of Saddam Hussein’s brutal campaign to annihilate ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq.
For the series Carnival Strippers, published in 1976, Meiselas spent three summers traveling with the women, not only photographing them, but interviewing them and the people who shared their lives: boyfriends, managers, customers. In her innovative book, she wove together a narrative of these voices with her images of the women’s lives.
Meiselas, a member of the international photographers’ cooperative Magnum, is best known for her award-winning coverage of Central America. In 1978 and 1979, she photographed the civil war between the Somoza dictatorship and Sandanista rebels, resulting in the book Nicaragua: June 1978–July 1979 (1981). In the 1980s, she went on to cover the civil war in El Salvador and the terror inflicted by the right-wing death squads; her photographs of the uncovered graves of four murdered American nuns spurred congressional investigations into the United States’s role in the war.
Perhaps her most ambitious project to date has been the 1997 book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History. After being asked to document the exhumation of mass graves as evidence of Hussein’s genocide of Kurds, Meiselas went on to spend six years to produce an unconventional cultural history of the Kurds, an ethnic group that inhabits parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and the former Soviet Union. The project, which continues on a related web site, employs documents ranging from family photos and accounts by early travelers to maps, government reports, letters, and advertisements.
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