Susan Meiselas

July 21–October 21, 2018
Floor 3

From war and human rights to cultural identity and domestic violence, Susan Meiselas’s (American, b. 1948) work covers a wide range of subjects and countries. This retrospective brings together projects from the beginning of her career in the 1970s to the present day, including her iconic portraits of carnival strippers, vivid color images of the conflicts in Central America in the 1980s, and an ongoing investigation into the history and aftermath of the Kurdish genocide. A member of Magnum Photos since 1976, Meiselas creates work that raises provocative questions about documentary practice, and the relationship between photographer and subject. The exhibition highlights her unique working method, combining photography, video, sound, and installation to explore different scales of time and conflict, ranging from the personal to the geopolitical.

Exhibition Preview

A man standing near the cracked window of a bus, which looks out onto a rural road where a woman in a white headscarf walks and a soldiers sits watching her
Black and white photo of two young women in tank tops and jeans standing in front of a curtain or tent
A seated young woman on a subway car with women in cut-off shorts standing in front of her
A closeup of a man or youth wearing a woven mask and burgundy beret and holding on to a barbed wire fence
A man in a beret holding a rifle in one hand and throwing a Molotov cocktail made of a Pepsi bottle, with other men in uniform and a tank behind him
A woman touches her face as she looks down into a mass grave

Susan Meiselas, Road to Aguilares, El Salvador, 1983; © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Susan Meiselas, Debbie and Renee, Rockland, Maine, 1972, from the series Carnival Strippers, 1972–75; © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Susan Meiselas, Roseann on the way to Manhattan Beach, New York, 1978, from the series Prince Street Girls, 1975–92; © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Susan Meiselas, Traditional Indian dance mask from the town of Monimbo, adopted by the rebels during the fight against Somoza to conceal identity, Masaya, Nicaragua, 1978; © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Susan Meiselas, Sandinistas at the walls of the Estelí National Guard headquarters, “Molotov Man,” Estelí, Nicaragua, July 16, 1979; © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Susan Meiselas, Widow at mass grave found in Koreme, Northern Iraq, 1992; © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos

Susan Meiselas on “the ethics of seeing”

During the late 1970s and 1980s, Susan Meiselas photographed the violent civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. She explains the graphic and disturbing stories behind specific gruesome images, and speaks more broadly about the ethics and responsibilities of a photographer documenting and engaging with history.

This exhibition is coproduced by Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, and Jeu de Paume, Paris, in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for its presentation in San Francisco.

SFMOMA’s presentation of Susan Meiselas: Mediations is generously supported by Nion McEvoy and Kate and Wes Mitchell.

Header image: Susan Meiselas, Road to Aguilares, El Salvador, 1983; © Susan Meiselas/Magnum Photos