A Day at the Museum: War's effect on women at Museum of Tolerance

Marissa Roth's 'One Person Crying: Women and War' photos show how women deal with war's consequences.

September 11, 2012|By Karen Wada
  • Mothers are honored at the Women’s Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam, for sacrificing their kids to war.
Mothers are honored at the Women’s Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam, for… (Marissa Roth )

The show: "One Person Crying: Women and War" at the Museum of Tolerance

The concept: War is often seen as the domain of men, but L.A.-based photographer Marissa Roth wants to draw attention to its devastating, often long-lasting effect on women. "Whether you are in Bosnia or Belfast or Phnom Penh," she says, "women are dealing with the aftermath: how to grieve, how to keep the family together, how to keep food on the table."

What you'll see: Roth's portraits of mothers, widows, survivors and activists that were taken over 28 years and represent the social, emotional and physical effects of a dozen conflicts from World War II to the war in Iraq. "There also are lots of pictures of artifacts," she says, and of places — a river in Hiroshima, a killing field in Cambodia — "because I believe the land absorbs everything and retains the history."

... and how you'll see it: The 87 gelatin silver prints are grouped by "visual and thematic affinities," says the show's curator, Howard Spector, an L.A.-based artist and arts administrator. "Instead of dividing things into sections I wanted to give it a more universal feel," he explains.

Don't miss: A 30-by-40-inch framed portrait of Afghan women and children, sitting in a refugee camp in Pakistan in 1988, is striking in its solemn beauty. "I just walked into this building and they were there," Roth says. "I couldn't see the women's faces, but I could feel them connect with me."

The back story: Some of the exhibition's pictures were shot while Roth was working as a freelance photojournalist for The Times from the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s. In 2002, she says, she began to pursue photographs and interviews specifically for "what I realized should be a documentary project getting the word out about these women."

Her own back story: The daughter of Holocaust refugees, Roth realized that the project "would also help me make peace with my own family history." The exhibition opens with a 1984 photograph she took at the home of her grandparents, who died in a 1942 massacre in Novi Sad in what is now Serbia. Accompanying the image is a copy of the letter her grandmother was writing just before she was killed.

Where the title comes from: The Bob Dylan song "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)."

Suitable for kids? The museum recommends the exhibition for ages 12 and older.

Study aids: Free-standing text panels provide historical context for wars included in the show and describe ways in which each war affected women.

At the Museum of Tolerance through Oct. 18.

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