WORCESTER — When the Worcester Art Museum mounted its excellent ongoing “Knights!” exhibition, drawn from what had been the collection of the Higgins Armory Museum, it did something unusual. WAM has put on a series of smaller contemporary shows as a kind of cautionary pendant to all the spectacular weaponry and body armor from the past. The sight of so many gleaming blades and burnished breastplates can’t help but glamorize battle. A show like “Veiled Aleppo,” the latest of these accompanying exhibitions, reminds viewers of the very different reality of modern warfare. It runs through June 5.
The show consists of eight color photographs taken by Franco Pagetti of the photojournalism agency VII. They’re large, 54 by 40 inches, if nowhere near as large as the blasted apartment buildings and piles of rubble that they show. Each photograph offers a view down an abandoned city street. The destruction revealed mocks the dailiness remembered. Although no people are visible, signs of human habitation recur throughout: a satellite dish, graffiti, a burnt-out bus, large colored cloths that hang from or between buildings.
The cloths give the show its name. This veiling of Aleppo has nothing to do with covering Islamic women in public. Rather, rebel fighters use the cloths to conceal themselves from Syrian government forces. A six-minute video shows fighters under fire. The shock of gunfire and threat is all the more startling for the contrast with the evacuated quietude seen in the photographs.
Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, had a population of 2.1 million 10 years ago. Try to imagine a street in Los Angeles, America’s second-largest city, or Houston, with a roughly comparable population, similarly devastated. As Pagetti’s images remind us, the many thousands of miles that separate Syria from the United States barely approach the psychic distance.
Through Nov. 4, another selection of images from Syria is on display in the region. They’re in Room 202 of the Reginald F. Lewis International Law Center, at Harvard Law School. The display is called “Don’t Look Away: Images of Systemic Torture in the Syrian Regime.”
“Don’t Look Away” comprises 30 or so poster-size images taken of Syrian victims of the Assad regime after their torture and execution. The images are on easels, as exhibits in a trial might be. That’s appropriate. What one sees is forensic in nature. Artistry informs Pagetti’s documentary intent. These images have nothing to do with art or even document. They are indictment.
A sign on the closed door outside the room warns visitors how disturbing the images are. It’s well that the door is closed, otherwise even just a glimpse of what’s inside might sicken passersby. Sicken is no exaggeration. Quite simply, these images are horrific beyond description. The only way to give a sense of what seeing them is like is in terms of visiting a butcher shop. That analogy, in no way meant to demean the victims, indicates how absolutely what we see damns their torturers. The psychic distance Pagetti’s photographs convey is as nothing compared to that seen here.
At Worcester Art Museum,
55 Salisbury St., Worcester, through June 5, 508-799-4406, www.worcesterart.org
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.