The Rose Art Museum celebrated the opening of a new exhibit on Wednesday, Sept. 21, with an event open to the Brandeis community and beyond. The exhibit, called “Peter Sacks: Resistance,” is the first solo exhibition for Sacks, a South African artist, according to the Rose website.
The collection features more than 90 “never-before-seen portraits of individuals who have resisted political, racial, or cultural oppression over the past two centuries,” according to a page on the Rose website about the exhibit. The portraits, done in a collage style that incorporates different textures and texts written by the individuals, highlight figures such as Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin and Hannah Arendt.
Excerpts from texts produced by the portrait subjects will also contribute to an “audio collage” as part of the exhibit, according to the exhibit’s page. According to remarks made by Sacks at the event, about 70 prominent figures in contemporary politics, culture and literature were asked to choose a resistor in Sacks’ collection and submit an audio recording of themselves reading from the chosen figure’s repertoire. According to Sacks, they received “about eight hours” of audio recordings, even though the initial call was for about two minutes from each person.
These recordings were curated into “four thematic soundtracks” which, while not present at the event, will typically be played throughout the exhibit, according to Sacks. They will also be available on the Rose Museum’s website and app if viewers want to hear the audio recording for a specific figure.
In his remarks at the end of the event, Sacks explained that “Resistance is the theme [of the exhibit] but gratitude is very much at the heart.” He thanked contributors to the curation of the exhibit, including those who had submitted audio recordings. Sacks then described the process of creating the portraits, which he said was in response to forces of increasing oppression in the United States that reminded him of growing up in South Africa in the ’50s and ’60s under apartheid. Sacks began with figures which had been important to him—and whose images and words were banned—during that time, such as Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But these figures soon “began to call on others, so that people started to arrive, almost as visitations,” Sacks explained.
Although Sacks declined to pick a favorite figure, he wanted to highlight one person that he felt was important “right now”: Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights lawyer who has been imprisoned for speaking out for women’s rights, according to Amnesty International.
Sacks closed out his remarks with “five lines” that he felt summed up the commitment to resistance that was one of the themes of the show. The first four lines came from a poem from the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, which addressed Joseph Stalin: “You took away all the oceans and all the space, and you gave me my shoe-size in earth with bars around it. Where did it get you? Nowhere. You left me my lips, and they still shape words, even in silence.”
The last line came from Rosa Parks, as she responded to threats from protesters who said they would burn down the hall in which she was to speak: “Then I will speak upon the ashes.”
Henry and Lois Foster Director and Chief Curator of the Rose Art Museum Gannit Ankori, President Ron Liebowitz and Tim Phillips, a member of the museum’s Board of Advisors, also gave remarks at the event.
“Peter Sacks: Resistance” will be available for viewing in the Rose Art Museum until Dec. 30, 2022.