ROM embraces #MeToo movement as controversial exhibit comes to Toronto

On the heels of its decision to display the works of an iconic Indian photographer posthumously accused of sexual assault, the ROM announced it will simultaneously open an exhibit on the #MeToo movement.

2 new exhibits explore intersection of #MeToo movement and art

The MET originally curated Singh's exhibit, which was open from Oct. 11, 2017, until Jan 2, 2018. (metmuseum.org)

They're calling it "uncharted territory." This summer, the ROM plans to launch two very different experiences on the same day.

On the heels of its decision to display the works of an iconic Indian photographer posthumously accused of sexual assault, the ROM announced it will simultaneously open an exhibit on the #MeToo movement.

Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. From the 1960s until his death at 56 in 1999, Singh took documentary-style images of people throughout India. His exploits earned him a reputation as one of the pioneers of colour photography. 

When his photographs went on display at the Met last year, they were protested by a group supporting Jaishri Abichandani, the New York-based artist who accused Singh of sexual assault. 

The eventual choice to follow through with the exhibit wasn't made lightly, according to one of the organizers.

"We really deliberated and debated and reflected and in the beginning didn't know what we wanted to do," Deepali Dewan said during an interview with Here and Now on Friday.  

"Very early on when we found out that there had been a sexual harassment allegation made, there were many conversations internally and externally," she said.

Ultimately, the ROM decided to launch a free #MeToo & the Arts exhibit on July 21, the same day as Singh's photography display. Both are set to run until Oct. 21, 2018.

'Erasing something is not a solution' 

"Just cancelling something or erasing something is not a solution," Dewan said.

After thorough debate, according to Dewan, the ROM decided the original reasons for bringing the show to Toronto — that Singh is a widely-recognized photographer from the global south who left an enduring mark on the art form — were valid. 

The ROM's intent behind showing the display, Dewan said, was to make sure he entered the histories of photography, which "tend to be dominated by western cultures."

"Had he been alive, had there been active charges and a case brought against him, we might have made a different decision," she explained.

Although people might "have feelings" about the exhibit, it's important to address these kinds of subjects head-on, Dewan said. 

"It's my hope, as a woman, that we're just at the beginning, that this will continue for a long time, and part of that is giving visibility to that discussion."

Addressing #MeToo at the museum

The #MeToo exhibit will include a schedule of programs on "sexual harassment and gender equality in the arts," according to a press release.

The display could also spark a conversation about how museums engage with works created by artists facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

"It really felt like the only options in that early phase were to either cancel something or to ignore the allegations. For those of us at the ROM, it didn't feel like either of those options were good" Dewan said.  

"I've done as much reading as I can about how other museums have been responding to similar situations, but I can't assume our visitors know all of that," she continued.

"One thing that's very clear is no one knows what the right answer is."

 

With files from Here and Now