ROM forges a new path for museums in the MeToo era
Following sexual assault allegations against a featured artist, The Royal Ontario Museum has announced a new exhibit that will focus on the #MeToo movement and its impact on the art world.
Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs, a collection of late photographer Raghubir Singh’s work documenting India, opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in October 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was breaking. Brooklyn-based artist Jaishri Abichandani came forward that month, accusing Singh of repeatedly sexually harassing and assaulting her after hiring her to be a photographer’s assistant on a trip to India in 1995.
The exhibit, comprised of Singh’s photos documenting daily life in India, was already scheduled to be on display at the ROM when the allegations broke.
“It shocked us. It made us very concerned and confused, and at that time, in that early phase [of the #MeToo movement], it seemed like the only options were to cancel something or to ignore allegations. And it felt to us at the ROM that neither of those were good options. And so we really wanted to forge our own path,” ROM exhibit curator Deepali Dewan told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
Instead of cancelling Modernism on the Ganges, the ROM decided to create #MeToo & The Arts, an exhibit and series of public engagements that will focus on how the #MeToo era is impacting sexual violence and gender power dynamics for museums and the art world. Dewan has been in charge of curating both #MeToo & The Arts and Modernism on the Ganges, which will be on display at the same time.
“This display that we’re calling #MeToo & The Arts is really a way for us to acknowledge the allegation head on. There will be a section that states what it is so that all of our visitors know about it. But it also kind of contextualizes it in the larger culture of #MeToo and the arts that have been happening since October 2017,” said Dewan.
In addition to a display at the museum, #MeToo & The Arts will feature panel discussions, movie screenings, and even an installation at Toronto’s art festival Nuit Blanche in September. The museum display and the majority of the accompanying events will be free to the public.
“The display really explores how there doesn’t seem to be one clear answer, that there’s many different choices that museums are grappling with,” said Dewan.
Abichandani has not called on museums to cancel Singh’s exhibit, but she did express approval for the ROM’s plan.
“That is the gauntlet I threw down for people to take up this conversation at an institutional level. I think the ROM is taking the lead in how to respond,” Abichandani told The Globe and Mail.
Both #MeToo & The Arts and Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs open July 21 and run until October 21.