The 316 often-gut-wrenching images in the Human Rights Human Wrongs exhibition (at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto through April 14) can be seen as a kind of photographic riff on Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Now 65 years old like the 29 other articles in the declaration, it reads: “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” Culled from the 292,000 pictures in the famous Black Star Collection news archive gifted to Ryerson in 2005, the show functions as a pan-national recognition of the sundry liberation struggles that convulsed the second half of the 20th century (and their contemporary legacies) as well as a memorial of sorts to the decades when Life, Look and other photo-packed periodicals constructed and shaped – even manipulated – our view of the world.
The chronological mosaic assembled by guest curator Mark Sealy, director of the London-based Autograph/the Association of Black Photographers, mixes the iconic and the unfamiliar, the famous (Che Guevara, Martin Luther King Jr., Queen Elizabeth II, Ho Chi Minh) and the anonymous, individual faces and crowds, with many arresting juxtapositions. Tough? Certainly. Indeed, as Sealy notes, for most, it’s probably an exhibition more to be “engaged with than enjoyed,” a tonic for our “image fatigue.” It’s also historic: the first public exhibition made entirely from the original Black Star prints that served as the raison d’être for the creation of the RIC.