Blog / Questioning Representation: Alfredo Jaar

Posted Yiying Teh

Many of us have seen the photograph of a vulture standing next to an emaciated boy. And the one of 3-year old Aylan washed up on the shore. There are countless photographs in archives, in daily newspapers and on television screens. The Atlantic suggests that upwards of 657 billion photos are uploaded every year, excluding those stored in computers.

Yet, the world keeps spinning.


In response to a culture of image saturation, artist Alfredo Jaar’s work conceives of ways for us to re-see the familiar and react once again. Unlike news images that are stand-alone and headline-grabbing, Jaar’s work rarely consists of discrete images. Instead, he mixes different media with his photographs, curates his work in architectural spaces and layers meaning upon meaning “Images have an advanced religion; they bury history,” Jaar has said before, quoting Catalan poet Vicenç Altaió. This sensibility influences his work, a work that is carefully poignant, always guarding against the aestheticization of violence.

Alfredo Jaar                                                                                                                                      

This is the tone of Jaar’s work in A Material Legacy: The Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Collection of Contemporary Art, now on view at the Nasher. The work, entitled Life Magazine, April 19, 1986, prints the iconic photo of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral procession on three panels. Rather than printing the image in vivid color, Jaar fades two of the three images, overlaying one of them with black dots and another with red dots, the dots representing the number of black and white people in the photo, respectively. The juxtaposition of the vast number of black people at the procession with the few red dots in the third pane reminds viewers of the inequality of race in the United States at time of Dr. King’s death, an historical legacy which is still resonant in today’s racial politics.


Ray Liu, a senior taking a class entitled ‘Cultures of New Media’ this semester, is interested in going to the lecture. “I have learnt alot about how the image circulates through an economy via different technologies and how it affects human sensibilities on the individual level. I’m trying to figure out how to work with images, design and art, and be able to impact people. I wonder though, do we have to keep pushing artistic concepts to get people to feel anything at all?”


“What Jaar does is that he takes a photograph and re-contextualizes it,” says Marshall N. Price, Nancy Hanks Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and chief curator of A Material Legacy. “I have been following Jaar’s work for many years now. We are excited that he is coming to the Nasher.”


 It is Difficult


Alfredo Jaar will deliver the Annual Barbra and Andrew Rothschild Lecture, entitled “It Is Difficult,” on Wednesday March 2nd, at 7 PM. Please arrive early! Seating is limited. Tickets are free, but required. Free ticket distribution starts at 5:30 PM. Cash bar opens at 6 PM.


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