There are few passions that equal the energy generated by protest and rebellion. To find yourself amidst a gathering of citizens demanding change in a collective voice is a personal experience, that for most participants, endures beyond the promise of reformation. For the past several years Sylvia de Swaan has been working on a project, Pledging Allegiances, photographing rallies, marches and other kinds of public gatherings form Atlanta to Prague. This past fall de Swaan participated in our Artist-in-Residence program printing and editing work from this series, and working on a series retracing some of the routes her family traveled in Europe during 1945-51, as they were displaced from Romania during World War II.
In the image to the right, de Swaan holds a photograph clipped from her childhood passport against the blurred landscape outside her train compartment on the Baltic Express. The reflection of her arm in the window suggests a haunting reminiscence of a memory yet to be captured, and a transparent link from past to present. On the following page at a march for Women's Equality in Washington, DC, de Swaan isolates a young woman caught in a defiant posture of crossed arms, her face turned in a scowl of loathing. The young woman's posture of resistance is carried through in the creative independence exhibited by the eclectic nature of her clothes and the flamboyant style of her hair. De Swaan has chosen her as a symbol of the rally, positioning her next to a blank banner where we imagine the next chapter in the history of women's equality could be written.
In the final image reproduced here, we need the caption of the photograph to inform us that the crowd of demonstrators was photographed in Prague in 1990, not Berkeley in 1968. In this image there are no signs to tell us the specific nature of the crowds questions, only two-finger peace symbols flash throughout the crowd suggesting a plea for sensibility and humanity. It is in this absence of concrete reference where de Swaan looks for the 'equation between conviction and prejudice in the collective energy that demonstrators generate.' As she records the passion of mass demonstrations and traces her memory of political displacement, she reminds us that the human choir of intervention may also be the blind catharsis of unashamed bigotry.
Jeffrey Hoone (c) 1990
Sylvia de Swaan is a Romanian-born photographer who has lived and worked in Mexico, Europe, and the United States. As she describes in her artist statement, her photographic works explore a range of themes that include personal history, individual and collective memory and identity, the state of the world and the neighborhood where she lives.
She has worked with Light Work in many ways, including an exhibition in 1980, multiple Light Work Grants, and two residencies. She has also served on Light Work’s board of directors. De Swaan is the recipient of a Lucie Award, and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Aaron Siskind Foundation, and more. She has completed residencies at Light Work, CEPA, Anderson Ranch Art Center, Künstlerhaus in Vienna, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, and the Viginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Please visit her website at http://www.sylviadeswaan.com/ for a full view of her accomplishments. Sylvia de Swaan lives in Utica, NY.
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