Wednesday, August 01, 2012

"Muslim Self Portraits" exhibit at Heart Mountain Interpretive Center comes under fire

From the Heart Mountain Foundation web site:
The Heart Mountain Interpretive Center at the site of a World War II Japanese-American internment camp outside of Cody, Wyo. will present a new exhibit featuring self-portraits that reveal Muslim Americans in everyday life. The exhibit is intended to counteract stereotypes and preconceived notions about Muslims in America at this time in history. Esse Quam Videri: Muslim Self-Portraits will be exhibited in the Ford Foundation Special Exhibition Area through Sept. 18, 2012.
"This exhibit is the first in a series of exhibits at the Interpretive Center that will encourage visitors to think about prejudice, stereotyping and religious, racial and ethnic profiling," said Stevan Leger executive director.
"Esse Quam Videri" means "to be rather than to seem." The exhibit includes photographs, collaged images and self-drawn portraits of and by Muslim Americans are presented with short essays to add context.
For more information, please contact Steve Leger at 307-754-8000 or by email at
Interesting to note that the exhibit has drawn a fair number of critics. This was in an excellent July 30 editorial in the Casper Star-Tribune:
Leslie Maslak of Cody recently questioned the new exhibit in a letter published in The Billings Gazette. “What in the world does a Muslim exhibit have to do with the Japanese-Americans’ internment?” she asked.

Maslak added, “Is this a ‘comparison’ to how we mistreat the ‘peace-loving’ Muslims? Whatever the reason, this exhibit does not belong at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp.”

Many other area residents apparently agree. An online poll by The Powell Tribune showed that through July 27, 55.9 percent of 1,101 respondents agreed with the center’s decision to host the exhibit, while 44.1 percent disagreed.

Shirley Ann Higuchi, chairwoman of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation’s board of directors and the daughter of Heart Mountain internees, explained why the exhibit is perfectly in keeping with the story told by the center.

Higuchi said even 70 years after the internment camps were opened, “We are still sometimes misled by the power of false stereotypes to express mistrust and intolerance toward fellow Americans simply because they resemble an enemy.”

“This exhibit takes a thoughtful look at the diversity and challenges of real Muslim-Americans today, and we hope it will prompt visitors to reflect on possible parallels between perceptions of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor then and Muslim-Americans now,” Higuchi said.
It's tempting to label the exhibit's critics as narrow-minded rubes. We are at war (and have been for more than ten years) with people who resemble those in the exhibit. Stereotypes are hard to counter, especially when they are reinforced so readily and so often.

But look at the mission of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and tell me that this exhibit doesn't belong there or somehow defames the place. Thanks to the Casper Star-Trib for standing up for something that is so obviously righteous and, judging by the criticism, so necessary.

No comments: