Schack art exhibition turns into racial controversy

EVERETT – Photographer Bob Fink, Schack Art Center’s Artist of the Year, spent two years working on a solo exhibition he was planning to open on Thursday.

Next, a racial equity consultant informed the center that showing Fink’s exhibit, “Indigenous Peoples: Photos from the End of the Earth,” was “inappropriate” and compared the display of the pictures to the display of “monkeys in the land.” a zoo, ”according to a text sent by a staff member.

As a result, the Schack Art Center administration informed Fink two weeks ago that his planned exhibition, which includes photos of ancient tribes in Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea, would be postponed until next year.

Everett-based photographer and filmmaker, Fink, 72, had selected more than 100 images taken during his 30-year career.

“This all really isn’t about me – I just got caught in the middle of it,” Fink said during an interview at his art-packed Everett condo last week. “Is this censorship? Do they censor what people can see? If so, then that’s a problem. This is what I have prepared, this is what I want to do, these are images that I think represent me.

Le Schack recently contracted staff and board members to train with Bernardo Ruiz and Tami Farber of Racing to Equality, a Seattle-based consultancy that says it works with governments and companies to improve racial equity policies and practices.

The goal, according to Ruiz, co-founder, CEO and co-director of the firm, was to support “the promotion of equity, inclusion and artistic justice” of the gallery.

Bob Fink’s “Full Regalia” was taken in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley from a woman from the Mursi tribe.

Farber, a senior partner, most recently served as the senior director of equity, training and development for Snohomish County leadership.

After Schack asked Racing to Equality to review Fink’s exhibit, gallery director and chief curator Carie Collver texted Fink which he shared with The Daily Herald.

“I just spoke on the phone with Bernardo, and he said it would be inappropriate for us to show them – he compared it to monkeys in a zoo. He said it would be bad for both of us, but he liked the idea of ​​sprinkling chunks with your other work. I’m so sorry, Bob, that this all happened right before your show. If we had known what was going to happen in the world two years ago, we could have prevented it all. ”

Contacted by the Daily Herald, Collver and Schack’s executive director Judy Tuohy responded with a statement prepared by William Zingarelli, a Stanwood attorney who sits on Schack’s board of directors.

“The Schack Art Center and Bob Fink have agreed to postpone their Artist of the Year show until 2022,” the statement said. “Relocating Mr. Fink’s show will give staff time to finalize policies on the conservation of programs and the display of images of Indigenous peoples.” The Schack Art Center looks forward to working closely with Mr. Fink to present his work in a way that showcases his vision and also aligns with future policies.

Collver and Tuohy declined to answer follow-up questions.

Fink ?? s ?? the chief ?? s son with his most precious possessions ??  was taken in Ethiopia's Omo Valley.  He is a member of the Sûr tribe.

Fink’s “The Chief’s Son with His Most Precious Goods” was shot in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. He is a member of the Sûr tribe.

Ruiz defended his recommendation and provided a long list of questions he posed to Schack that he said were designed to ensure the photos weren’t abusive. This included whether the elders of the tribe had co-operated and consented to have their photos taken and exhibited, whether the photographer was an anthropologist “knowing how to work with the tribes in a way that preserves their sovereignty and dignity”, and whether the tribes were compensated. .

Ruiz, who identifies as an indigenous person of “Mexican / Aztec descent,” said his comment about the zoo was taken out of context.

“Indigenous people are NOT apes in a zoo,” Ruiz wrote. “Indigenous peoples are VALUABLE human beings. ”

Fink said he was disappointed with Schack’s decision and outraged by the “monkeys in the zoo” comment.

“They went way too far in saying that you can’t show the photos of this guy because he’s a white guy and they’re black photos and it’s racially inappropriate that I take advantage of them or that I post them like they’re a zoo exhibit, ”Fink said. “That was absolutely not the point of the show.

??Ornament??  by Fink is a portrait of a woman from the Suri tribe in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia.

Fink’s “Ornament” is a portrait of a woman from the Suri tribe in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia.

“I was outraged,” he said. “I said, ‘You might want to fire your consultant. I mean, that’s one of the most racist things you can say.

In a text to curator Collver, Fink wrote: “His claim that displaying my photos would be like displaying ‘monkeys in a zoo’ is extremely racist in itself and makes me want to question his ability to consult on issues. of racism in our culture and on critical race theory. People have lost their jobs for saying less offensive things than that. ”

Street and wildlife photographer, Fink recently returned to Everett after living in New Zealand for the past seven years with his wife, Patty Watson. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in the United States and New Zealand and featured in National Geographic, Issuu and Stanford University Alumni Magazine.

Since retiring from psychiatry in 2016, Fink has traveled to all seven continents for his career as a photographer. He has photographed indigenous peoples in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, Namibia, Morocco, Vietnam and New Zealand, among others.

“This is the tragedy of these tribes,” Fink said of his work. “They probably won’t exist much longer because the countries where they live are making progress. It will be like the Native Americans here. They will be evicted from their tribal lands.

??  Marlborough Man I ??  by Bob Fink was taken in Papua New Guinea.  He's a Huli Wigman.

Bob Fink’s “Marlborough Man I” was taken in Papua New Guinea. He’s a Huli Wigman.

Fink’s exhibit is his way of sharing his experiences visiting remote villages around the world – and his new understanding of the pursuit of happiness.

“I realized that there were people living in ways that I couldn’t even imagine – and they live happily,” he said. “They are happier than us. “

“I am well aware that there has been controversy over photographers who specialize in taking pictures of indigenous people and then sell them for thousands and thousands of dollars,” he added. “But most of these complaints came from the tribes because the photos did not represent the people or their surroundings.”

Fink and Watson stayed with each tribe for about a week at a time. Fink’s subjects chose how to present themselves, he said, adding that tribal leaders approved of every photo he took.

He had shared his plans for the show with the Schack team from the start. There are lots of emails, as well as a contract and a PowerPoint presentation that Fink did. He provided Schack with every image, every title.

“Le Schack knew about all of this for the past two years,” he said. “Completely and totally aware.”

He proposed to remove from the exhibition any images deemed offensive. He offered not to take advantage of the “Indigenous Peoples” photographs, even though his contract called for Schack to get 40% of the exhibition’s sales, with 60% going to Fink. He said Schack declined the offers.

Framed photographs of Bob Fink displayed on his couch in his Everett home.  (Olivia Vanni / The Messenger)

Framed photographs of Bob Fink displayed on his couch in his Everett home. (Olivia Vanni / The Messenger)

“They say, ‘Because you’re Caucasian and you took these photos, you can’t show them because some people might be offended. They might say, “This is your Caucasian point of view. This is my Caucasian point of view! It is a Caucasian point of view that supports and sympathizes with the people whose photos I took. I’m not just saying, ‘Hey, look at those monkeys in a zoo.’ ”

The Schack is in the process of updating its guidelines, policies and language to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all, said Rich White, chairman of the board of the Shack Art Center, in a statement. “Part of that work is re-examining our exhibitions and programs to ensure they continue to address the art and experiences of people from all communities, including those who have been traditionally marginalized. ”

Fink said he continues to support the Schack, adding: “They are doing great things for our community and our artists.”

But their decision made him cry.

“Art has to be provocative,” he said. “It’s not mandatory, but it can be. If 80% like it and 20% are offended by it, maybe some of those 20% will think about it more.

Sara Bruestle: [email protected] and @sarabruestle.

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