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<i>Strangers</i> Photo/Video Exhibit Explores Cross-Cultural Differences - 2003-09-15

A new photography and video exhibit at New York City's International Center of Photography explores cross-cultural differences through the viewpoints of foreign artists. Contemporary photographers from around the world are using their lenses to comment on the world.

An Israeli photographer takes thousands of photos of dead Tutsis in Rwanda, and arranges the images to appear on video in documentary form.

Some pictures show people digging graves or carrying crosses bearing the names of the dead. Others show thousands of skeletons that remain clustered on floors of abandoned buildings a full two years after the genocide that killed 800,000 ended. In the background, to emphasize the horror of the images they are seeing, viewers hear Hutu radio broadcasters urging the continuation of killing.

International Center for Photography co-curator Carol Squiers reads the English subtitles of the radio broadcast. "They are truly a dirty race. I do not know if God can help us," she reads. "It is up to us to wipe them out. We must get rid of them. It is our only solution."

The photographer, Eyal Sivan, is among 40 artists from 20 different countries whose work is now on display for a new triennial exhibition called Strangers.

Co-curator Christopher Phillips says the viewpoints that foreigners have on other cultures drive all the works at the show. "We discovered one thread running through a lot of contemporary work, and that thread is the idea of encounters between artists and people previously unknown to them," he said.

Two almost life-size photographs by a Canadian photographer Leif Claesson focus on the lives of the homeless. He seeks out makeshift camps that homeless people have abandoned in southern Stockholm, Sweden, and for the first picture, shoots a pair of dirty pants on the muddy ground. Then he puts the pants on himself and stands barefoot for a second photograph. He looks uncomfortable.

Taiwanese photographer Chien Chi-Chang decided to focus on the mentally ill in his own home country. His black and white photos feature the 700 residents of the Lung Fa Tang temple, a sanctuary where an insane patient is literally chained to another patient who is considered less sane, so that the more stable patient can influence the weaker one. Each photo reveals a different chained pair in tattered clothes.

The artist says he has always been fascinated with the human condition of alienation and connection. "In addition to this visible chain, we all have some sort of invisible chains," he said. "It can be worldly desire. It can be social system. It can be a relationship."

Some cultural differences can best be explained on video. French-born artist Zineb Sedira filmed three conversations within her own family to show the impact of language on female relationships.

The first monitor shows a conversation between Ms. Sedira and her mother, who was born in Algeria. Mother and daughter speak to each other in their own native tongues. Ms. Sedira speaks French and her mother, Arabic. But they understand each other perfectly.

On the second screen, Ms. Sedira films the same interaction between herself and her daughter, who was born in England and speaks English. Again, they understand. But when Ms. Sedira pairs grandmother and granddaughter, she says the communication breaks down because the child does not speak Arabic and the matriarch does not speak English.

"On the third monitor you can see, they keep looking at the camera and I am behind the camera filming them," she said. "So you understand they can only function in some ways, verbally anyway, through me."

This is the first time the International Center of Photography has put on a show of this kind. Curators began working on Strangers in the summer of 2001. They say they will attempt another such exhibit in three years.