Postcards Share Portlanders' Responses to Dramatic War Photos

Richard Mosse's photographs of an African war are striking a chord with the thousands of Portlanders—here's what they have to say.

By Rene Bermudez March 12, 2015

The Portland Art Museum has extended its run of The Enclave, an immersive multimedia meditation on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, due to extraordinary public interest.

Photographer Richard Mosse's work, which defamiliarizes both the genre of war photography and tropes of African suffering through haunting images in electric hues of pink, blue, and crimson, has elicited strong reactions from the thousands of Portlanders who have already attended the show.

To facilitate engagement and conversation, the museum provided comment cards to visitors at the exhibit. These cards, many of which are now on display through the museum’s Tumblr, provide a fascinating window into the at times emotional, at times incisive reactions of Portlanders to The Enclave’s devastating sounds and images.

“It’s difficult to put into words the immense discrepancy between how these images capture beauty and yet portray such utter despair and injustice,” wrote one commenter. Another decried what the commenter called “exploitation”: “White guy photographs conflict in DRC. We can do better.” 

Over 25,000 museum-goers of all ages have come to see the exhibit since the show opened in November, and the exhibition’s curator, Brian Ferriso, says the numbers continue to grow. 

"I see it as our responsibility as an institution to bring the world to Portland," says Ferriso. The installation, which is currently also showing at one of the world's greatest contemporary art museums, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, aims to make viewers contemplate their own roles in the conflict. Ferriso points out that the global demand for minerals like coltan, which are used in consumer electronics, has played a part in fueling the ongoing strife in the DRC. 

"I wanted my kids to see it," Ferriso told me. "Not only mine, but that generation. It’s a generation we're really trying to attract, and they are very much participating in and contemplating the issues around this [work]." 

Click through the slide show above to see a selection of the comment cards, a documentary view of our city’s reaction to—in Mosse’s words—“narratives so painful that they exist beyond language.” 

The Enclave will be on display until April 12 at the Portland Museum of Art, 1219 SW Park Ave.

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