MODA Curates is an annual opportunity offered by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery and the MA in Modern and Contemporary Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies Program for outstanding curatorial proposals related to students’ theses. The 2020 edition of MODA Curates will present Reframing the Passport Photo curated by Hannah Morse and A Bottomless Silence curated by Rotana Shaker. 


Reframing the Passport Photo ​

Reframing the Passport Photo uses the passport as a lens through which to view contemporary issues associated with the globalized world: migration, nationalism, access, belonging, and personhood. Exhibiting four artists whose work references the passport photo—Martina Bacigalupo, Tomoko Sawada, Stephanie Syjuco, and Sheng Qi—the exhibition explores the premises that underlie modern identification practices, exposing the growing gaps between personal identity and state-sanctioned identification. Together, the works shed light on the assumptions embedded within the international passport system and the social stratifications they perpetuate.

The artists engage with the passport photo’s formal components—an isolated and emotionless face, gazing straight ahead, like its predecessor the mug shot. They question the centrality of the face to both personal identity and its bureaucratic expression, highlighting its dual function as a site for individual recognition, where memory and emotional expression are central, and collective registration, where race and sex (and the theories of physiognomy that underlie them) are primary concerns. By altering its features, obscuring it, or removing it altogether, the artists consider the power of the face and the meanings attributed to it.

Focusing on the documents that produce, regulate, and monitor international systems of movement and passage, the artists presented in Reframing the Passport Photo illuminate the effects that these documents have on the individual and at the societal level. Historian Craig Robertson poses the fitting question “How was it that a piece of paper...came to be accepted as a reliable answer to the question ‘Who are you?”’ 

A Bottomless Silence

The exhibition A Bottomless Silence borrows its name from the anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s text “Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History.” Taking his main thesis of power and its dissemination through the act of recording, A Bottomless Silence looks to the work of contemporary artists Nadia Kaabi-Linke, Jumana Manna and Walid Raad to interrogate the ways in which we know, experience, and build meaning around the past. Each of these artists engage with historical material in acts of recovery and re-imagination that illuminate how the sounds, textures, and colors of bygone eras endure or reemerge into the present and hereafter, while also highlighting the conditions that allow for certain histories to be affirmed while others are suppressed. Together they raise the questions: How can we access the past? Who is the arbiter of what traces must be preserved or destroyed? Who gets to claim a history as their own?

These artists’ engagement with the past is mediated by their positions within the “globalized” art world. Having ties to formerly colonized nations and living and working in major Euro-American cities, the artists embody a migrant outlook that considers a multiplicity of experience beyond fixed categories. Thus, their perspective on the unequal realities of globalization and imperialism drives their creative inquiry of the histories produced by the likes of government, academics, and museums.

Using fiction, documentary, and forensic techniques to manipulate how viewers can access the archives they explore, Raad, Kaabi-Linke, and Manna reveal alternatives to dominant narratives. Yet, the very act of recording will always produce silences. A Bottomless Silence posits an understanding of time and history that recognizes the instability of its episteme—that which is revealed and that which is silenced are in constant flux.  We face the immense trove of evidence before us knowing that there will never be a bottom to the silence, and with the weighty feeling that these silences are a site of nearly infinite potential to redefine the future.


Martina Bacigalupo. Selections from the series "Gulu Real Art Studios," 2011-12.

Postponed until further notice

Curated By

Hannah Morse, Rotana Shaker

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