Shadows | Alfredo Jaar

At the core of internationally renowned Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar’s installation Shadows is a world-famous photograph by Dutch photographer Koen Wessing. Now in the collection of the Nederlands Fotomuseum, the photograph is a poignant image of two grief-stricken Nicaraguan women who have just learned of their father’s murder. In this recent work, Jaar transforms the visualization of universal emotions like into a work of astonishing dimensionality. Shadows is the second work in an as yet unfinished trilogy dedicated to single iconic photographs. The impressive first part, constructed around a single picture by South African photographer Kevin Carter, was exhibited in the Nederlands Fotomuseum in 2013 under the title The Sound of Silence.

Shadows will be on show at the Nederlands Fotomuseum from 26 January to 13 May 2019.

In The Sound of Silence (2006), Alfredo Jaar uses a photograph to tell the moving story of photojournalist Kevin Carter. That installation was exhibited at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in 2013. Since he produced it, Jaar has been working to complete his trilogy about the power of iconic images.

Now, ten years on, Jaar presents the second installation in the trilogy: Shadows. Once again, an iconic photograph is at the heart of the installation and again the artist invites the public to focus on the power and meaning of a single photographic image. Jaar says, ‘We have become numbed to images and they do not seem to affect us anymore. So here I am trying to focus on a single image and it is an invitation for people to see, to actually see them.’

Shadows is a tribute to the work of photographer Koen Wessing. The installation addresses the events following the murder of a farmer in Esteli, Nicaragua. Wessing was travelling around Nicaragua in 1978, during the last days of the Somoza regime. One day he came across a group of farmers carrying the corpse of a local farmer to a vehicle. The man had been murdered by the National Guard. Wessing decided to follow the group and photographed subsequent events at very close range: the car journey, the arrival at the man’s home, the laying out of the corpse – and the moment when the dead man’s two daughters arrived at the house, convulsed by grief. In the agony of bereavement, they raise their arms to heaven. Wessing has produced an iconic, almost baroque, image of the drama.

Wessing’s work has also provided the inspiration for the structure of Jaar’s installation. In this respect, the inspiration is Wessing’s book Chili, September 1973. The publication offers a purely visual account of that year’s military coup in Chile and the complete absence of accompanying text was a groundbreaking move at the time when it was issued, in 1973. In Shadows, Jaar follows suit by showing images with no text. This is in sharp contrast to his earlier work The Sound of Silence, in which the accompanying text played a crucial role.

In addition to Shadows, Alfredo Jaar has also been invited by the Nederlands Fotomuseum to create an exhibition of Koen Wessing’s work for Chili, September 1973. The book, produced by Wessing himself, bears witness to the violent coup d’état led by general Pinochet and to the death of Chile’s Socialist President, Salvador Allende.

Alfredo Jaar
Alfredo Jaar (b. 1956, Chile) is a visual artist, architect and filmmaker of international renown. He lives and works in New York. For the last thirty years, Jaar’s work has been inspired by human rights violations. Based on photographs, films, installations and text, and responding to news stories around the world, it touches on themes like social and economic inequality, genocide, refugees, border conflicts and the role of photojournalism. Jaar’s work has been shown extensively around the world. He has participated in Biennials such as in Venice (1986, 2007, 2009, 2013), São Paulo (1987, 1989, 2010) as well as at Documenta in Kassel (1987, 2002). Jaar has made over sixty interventions in public spaces and more than fifty monographs have been published about his work. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow since 1985 and a MacArthur Fellow since 2000. In 2018 he received the 11th Hiroshima Art Prize.

Koen Wessing
Dutch photographer Koen Wessing (1942-2011) was a politically engaged and socially concerned photojournalist in the best tradition of Dutch humanist photography. He worked for daily and weekly news media and became famous for his reportages on events like the student riots in Paris in May 1968 and the violent disturbances in Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt area in 1975. His work on China and El Salvador also brought him much praise. He was a prominent member of the association of professional Dutch photographers (GKf) and in 1989 received the Capi-Lux Alblas Prize for lifetime achievement.

The complete Koen Wessing archive is in the care of the Nederlands Fotomuseum.

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