Eddie Adams' 1968 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph Murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief emerged as one of the most unforgettable images of the Vietnam War. The grimace on the prisoner's face, the sinewy arm firing the gun, the reality of war at its most elemental captured in the photograph earned Adams a reputation as an unflinching photojournalist who not only must record what he sees around him, but must share that vision with the rest of the world.
For the last three decades Adams has continued his work as an artist and journalist, focusing in the last two years on the SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER PROJECT, which opens at the Spokane Public Library on Friday and runs through May 25. The exhibit of photography consists of more than 40 silver gelatin portraits of human rights activists and leaders, accompanied by text taken from interviews conducted by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy), who will be speaking at the Women Helping Women Fund Benefit Luncheon on May 7.
"One of the things that's exciting about Kerry Kennedy Cuomo is that she's going to do her press conference at the library," says Betsy Wilkerson, president of the Women Helping Women Fund. "She wanted to be surrounded by the show and by everything that the library represents. It's a totally different way of thinking."
Surprisingly, the traveling exhibit wasn't always a scheduled part of Kennedy Cuomo's visit.
"The photo exhibit wasn't even part of the original plan," says Wilkerson. "Morris Dees was doing his trial in Idaho at the time, which really spotlighted civil rights in the region. And to be honest, while that was so significant regionally, we had no idea how renowned that was on a national level. The Speak Truth to Power people called and told us, 'We have this touring exhibit, if you're interested.' And of course, we were."
Speak Truth to Power waived the $7,000 they normally charge for organizations to book the exhibit, in addition to sending curriculum materials designed for middle school-age kids. The community has responded in kind at the prospect of bringing such a remarkable show to town.
"There's been an incredible, communitywide effort as well," says Melinda Travis, speaker chair for Women Helping Women. "The MAC [the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture] is doing the installation for free."
Many of the faces of those who have fought for civil rights, sexual equality, religious freedom, environmental awareness and political presence will be familiar ones -- including Vaclav Havel, the Dalai Lama, Rigoberta Menchu, Elie Wiesel and Sister Helen Prejean. Others will be relatively unknown people whose acts of everyday courage are nevertheless nothing short of amazing, like Juliana Dogbadzi who fights repression in her native Ghana, or Bruce Harris, an American who was so moved by the plight of the Guatemalan people that they have become his life's work.
The Speak Truth to Power traveling exhibit is part of a much larger movement, which includes the Speak Truth to Power book, the PBS broadcast (available on video), and even a play, culled from Kennedy Cuomo's interviews and adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ariel Dorfman.
Most importantly, the Speak Truth to Power exhibit hopes to raise awareness for human rights on a local and individual level. It was important to all parties involved that the exhibit be as accessible as possible, which is why the library makes such a good venue.
"This will bring it into the Spokane consciousness. People say they're tired of hearing about civil rights, but I think the need for it is even more prevalent now. We're in a cocoon here, not just as a society but here in the Inland Northwest," says Wilkerson. "The civil rights situation in the schools is terrible. Over and over again I hear from students who are still having to deal with issues of race and gender. I was young during the civil rights movement, and what was good about that was that it was in the news all the time. You couldn't not be aware of it. Now it's not in our faces all the time, so it's not seen as an issue as much anymore, which makes it easy for people to keep their heads in the sand."
Speak Truth to Power shows at the Spokane Public Library,
906 W. Main, from Friday, April 20, through Friday, May 25.
A free public reception is Friday, April 27, from 4-6 pm.
The Women Helping Women Fund Benefit Luncheon is Monday, May 7, at noon at the Spokane Convention Center.
Tickets: $100 minimum donation. Call: 328-8285.
Tom and the Dog Guy
Although artist TOM QUINN is well-known to regular Inlander readers as the creator of the cartoons that grace our Last Word feature, the painting that is getting the most notoriety in his new show at the Chase Gallery isn't even his.
"The show is called 'Tom and the Dog Guy.' I'm Tom, of course, and Val Carter is 'the Dog Guy'," Quinn explains. "The painting that's getting all the attention is his, and it's of a nude woman curled up in a dog basket, with babies nursing on her. And it gets worse than that. The name of the painting is Bitch Hound Nursing Septuplets."
Okay, we can see why conservative Spokane audiences might have a problem with this, but Quinn says the painting's intent is not to put down or degrade women in any way.
"What it really represents is a satire on fertility drugs," he says. "My feeling is that it's really innocent compared to some of the things I've seen in Seattle or L.A., where it's really all about just trying to shock people."
Having said that, our discussion moves to Quinn's portion of the show, which includes both old and new work. The 17 paintings include pastels, oil, watercolors and acrylic. And while his style is reminiscent of the vibrant colors and innocence of classic picture book illustration, his themes are surprising and sophisticated. In one, a rattlesnake coils up to strike within the tangle of a garden hose. In another, an infant Freud observes life from the confines of a Victorian baby carriage. In still another, John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland (in three different sizes) inhabits a literary landscape complete with caterpillar, hookah, Queen of Hearts and a white rabbit.
His work reveals his own sensibilities. "I guess if there was any unifying theme it would have to be a love for the absurd and a surrealistic approach," says Quinn. "I like a sense of irony and of sidestepping the obvious in my work."
"Tom and the Dog Guy," a show of works by Tom Quinn and Val Carter, shows through May 11 at the Chase Gallery at City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Call: 625-6050.
Fine student work
Area universities and colleges are beginning their annual shows of senior/thesis exhibitions. WSU's Fine Arts Graduate Thesis Exhibition opened April 9 and runs through May 12. Marking the passage from student artist to professional career artist, the exhibition encompasses everything from Ryan Belnap's brightly kinetic, digitally enhanced photography to David Schu's eerie, beautiful paintings of butterflies and moths. Also included in the show are Joel Allen, Sarah Belnap, Tobe Harvey, Karen Kaiser, Raylene Ward and Cynthia Zyzda.
Down in Walla Walla, the Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College has a three-stage exhibition of student work beginning with "No. 1," which opens Friday and runs through April 27. The pool of senior artists was so large this year that the gallery decided to try the Senior Art Thesis Exhibitions in stages, culminating in a lecture with Perry Award-winner Lois Allan on "The Case for Regional Art in the 21st Century" on May 11.
The WSU Fine Arts Graduate Thesis Exhibition runs at the WSU Museum of Art through May 12. Call: (509) 335-1910. The Senior Art Thesis Exhibitions are April 20-27, May 1-8 and May 11-20. The Perry Award lecture with Lois Allan is May 11 at 5 p.m. in Olin Hall, Room 130. Call: (509) 527-5249.