The Florence Griswold Museum’s gallery show “Nothing More American:” Immigration, Sanctuary, and Community, an exhibition by Matthew Leifheit includes contemporary photographs and historic paintings. [3D Tour of Exhibition] The artworks tell the story of immigrant and refugee families who have found sanctuary from deportation or persecution in local churches and in the town of Old Lyme, where they have begun new lives. https://florencegriswoldmuseum.org/nothingmoreamerican/
When the idea was floated to stage SANCTUARY, a pop-up photography exhibition inspired by the gallery show, little did we know how relevant the theme would become. Submissions for the exhibition opened as news of COVID-19 intensified, and soon, the Museum closed to visitors as social distancing was implemented as a key public health measure for reducing the virus’s spread. Plans for a physical exhibition during the month of May were reconfigured so that we could instead present the photographs online.
As we reviewed the photographers’ submissions in early April, it was evident that their works registered the new importance of sanctuary as Americans sheltered at home. Artists entered works that depict the places they feel safe and inspired, as well as the people (and pets) who stimulate their minds and surround them with love. Our horizons have narrowed to our apartments, houses, and yards. The photographers celebrate those environments as well as the hiking trails, beaches, and even travel destinations that have felt like sanctuaries to them. We particularly enjoyed the view of sanctuary reflected through the lenses of high school students, who submitted work as part of an academic assignment. Confinement to home, away from friends and school provided an alternative way to think about their lives.
Given the intensely felt and moving photographs that were submitted, the decision of which ones to include was not easy. We looked for photos that exemplified the concept of sanctuary as outlined in the call for submissions, taking into account both the imagery and the photographers’ words. Grain, lighting, color, and other technical qualities mattered to us, as did composition and a sense of intention from the photographer in achieving the results on view in each image.
While we did not include every submission in what is now an online exhibition, we marveled at the views of nature so many of the photographers captured, and are looking forward to seeking out the gorgeous locations they put before our eyes. Across the 300 photographs that were submitted to our site, nature prevailed as the embodiment of sanctuary, a place for contemplating not only the environment but also the individual, the communal, and the existential. As one of the few places outside our homes that we can explore these days, nature can offer sanctuary to us all through its beauty and dynamic of renewal. As you view SANCTUARY, we hope that you can share in that journey.
Generous support for this project provided by Art Bridges
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