All Photos: Annie Arnone

Black American protests come to light in new Ryerson exhibit

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By Annie Arnone

The halls of Ryerson’s Image Centre (RIC) echo with the sounds of Old Alabama—an album of songs sung in a 1947 American Black penitentiary. Photographs and video of protests line the walls of the exhibit room. A Black man stands in front of a building littered with graffiti reading “Fight or submit, nigger” and a painting of a man holding a gun. This is Power to the People—the newest photography exhibit in the RIC, that opened on Jan. 18.

Featuring photographs and video content from American civil rights movements, Attica USA 1971: Images and Sounds of a Rebellion—one of several demonstrations within the exhibit—recounts the stories from Attica prison riots in the United States.

The goal of this exhibit is to contextualize the imagery of historical events by way of music, photographs and video.

Director of the RIC, Paul Roth explained that the exhibit allows viewers to imagine life outside of the walls of prison, through means of multimedia.

“The connection between our present day circumstances and the issues people faced back then make me sense that there’s a real continuum with these problems,” he said. “Photography played a huge role in making us understand what people of colour faced when dealing with systemic oppression. People who aren’t in prison have no idea what its like on the inside.”

The connection, according to Roth, between problems within the Black community then and now are unfortunately similar. He recalled recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and the similarity between the protests Black communities had in 1971, to be all too much the same. Additionally, Roth explained the nature of the photos within the exhibit to be compelling in their jarring, violent nature.

“These kind of pictures are never meant to be seen, or published and we were really curious to see what people would think when viewing these images,” he said. “They’re not easy to look at. But I think that makes it all the more impactful.”

The exhibit is free admission and will be open at the RIC until April 9.

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