Exhibition, lectures mark Rousseau anniversary

Author: Gene Stowe

Johann Rousselot, Portrait of Trilachan Mohanta, Orissa, India, 2008

Top: Johann Rousselot, Portrait of Trilachan Mohanta, Orissa, India, 2008; Below: Beggars, 1924 by Robert S. Austin

A pair of special exhibitions at the Snite Museum of Art through March 11, DIGNITY and A Person’s Worth, are the centerpiece of a series of events and lectures, “Rousseau 2012 and Dignity: Are We Just Yet?” commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of 18th-century political philosopher and essayist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

The events were organized by Julia Douthwaite, professor of French and Francophone studies, to promote a cross-disciplinary discussion on campus about social justice and human dignity.

Students from numerous College of Arts and Letters departments, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, and the Law School’s Center for Civil and Human Rights will visit the exhibitions and related lecture series as part of their courses.

Beggars, 1924 by Robert S

DIGNITY is a smaller version of a photography exhibition, DIGNITÉ: Droits Humains et Pauvreté (DIGNITY: Human Rights and Poverty) commissioned and organized by the French branch of Amnesty International. Douthwaite and Andrew Kelly, who graduated last year, attended that exhibition’s opening in Paris.

“It’s not only beautiful and very powerful images of people living in somewhat distressing situations, but each image has their name and their age and the town they’re living in and a testimonial about their life,” Doutawaite says.

“It’s very personal. That way it avoids ‘the pornography of pathos.’ These people are not asking for anything. This is just their life. The photographer just happened to come in that day.”

The five photographers individually focused on housing Egypt and Nigeria, citizenship denied to the Roma in Macedonia, land rights in India and ethnic persecution in Mexico. The images convey dignity with, among other things, the upright stance and unbowed eyes of the subjects.

With the permission of Amnesty International, Douthwaite and two students, Lea Malewitz and Lauren Wester, translated a condensed version of the DIGNITÉ exhibition catalog for the Snite show, with graphic design by graduate student Marie Bourgeois and artistic direction by Robert Sedlack, associate professor of graphic design.

The Snite exhibition includes of 52, large-format digital color photographs of portraits, landscapes, and personal testimonies of people living in poverty today in Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria, India and Macedonia.

Two of the five photographers, Philippe Brault, and Johann Rousselot, will visit the museum in February and March to talk about their work.

The second exhibition, A Person’s Worth, contains nine prints, three drawings and three photographs selected from the collections of the Museum.

“These 18th- and 19th- and 20th- century images of peasants and craftsmen are offered as examples of how little the economic status of the general population has changed since Rousseau wrote his 1754 treatise, Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men,” says Gina Costa, the Museum’s public relations and marketing specialist.

Lectures and performances included in “Rousseau 2012 and Dignity: Are We Just Yet?” are:

  • 5 p.m. Jan. 18 – Christie McDonald, a professor of French and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, “Rousseau and Human Rights.”
  • 4:30 p.m. Feb. 2 – Christopher Kelly, professor of political science at Boston University, “Rousseau and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
  • 3 p.m. Feb. 5 – Performance of Rousseau’s opera Le Devin du Village.
  • 5 p.m. Feb. 9 – Johann Rousselot, photojournalist from Paris, “India and Human Rights – Development Discrimination.
  • 5 p.m. Feb. 15 – Sergei Margel, professor at the faculty of theology and sciences of religion, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, “On Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Literary Lie and Political Fiction.”
  • 5 p.m. Feb. 28 – Jason Niedleman, professor of political science, University of LaVerne, “Rousseau and Religious Liberty.”
  • 5 p.m. March 6 – Philippe Brault, photojournalist from Paris, “Behind the Story.”

The events, free and open to the public, are at the Annenberg Auditorium at the Snite Museum of Art. The Museum will hold a public reception for the winter exhibitions from 2-4 p.m. Feb. 26. For more information call 631-4435 or visit sniteartmuseum.nd.edu.