About the Photographer
American, b. 1956 Chile
Alfredo Jaar seizes the challenge of making art out of information most people would rather avoid: the plight of refugees, genocide, ethnic and political violence. Rather than offering information in an expected or familiar form, Jaar creates presentations that demand reflection. The installation Real Pictures, commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Photography in 1995, shows no pictures, but offers 100 archival photo storage boxes installed in rows and spot lit on the floor of the gallery each embossed with a text describing Caritas, a woman who survived the 1994 Rwandan massacres and subsequent retribution. In an age when images of atrocities have become commonplace, Jaar's installation raises critical questions: Does an over saturation of media images of war lead to apathy? Or is this, as Susan Sontag writes about in her book Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), a much more complicated question concerning the limits of human sympathy and how war is waged—and understood—in our time. By providing the viewer with only a text to contextualize an unseen image, Jaar denies the viewer the visceral reaction most war images illicit and instead requires him or her to read and think about the political and historical context of the situation. This piece further raises questions regarding the veracity of written and photographic description. Denied the opportunity to examine the image that Jaar describes in his text the viewer must trust or question Jaar's interpretation of the scene.
Born in 1956, Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar currently lives in New York. Among his site-specific, politically charged installations are Let There Be Light (1997); Real Pictures (1995), a memorial to the people of Rwanda commissioned by The Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago; Fading (1991), which examined the situation of Vietnamese refugees detained in Hong Kong; Geography = War (1990); and A Logo for America (1987), which appeared on the spectacolor sign in New York's Times Square. Jaar's work has been exhibited worldwide, in Kassel's "Documenta"; and the Venice Biennale, and numerous institutional venues, including The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.