Alison Wright: Grit and Grace, Women at Work

March 14 - June 14, 2020

Bright Light in the Dark: The Work of Alison Wright

“The light! It’s so beautiful,” she said breathlessly. “I’ve got to catch the light before it changes!” She kicked off her high heels and flew off in an evening gown and bare feet into the sunset, juggling her bulky camera equipment. It was 2009, and I had just met Alison Wright at a press preview at a hotel in Dubai, U.A.E. As I watched all the other photographers and journalists turn their backs on the view and voraciously dig into the buffet, I thought to myself, “Wow. Now, that’s a woman at work.” And so began a fruitful professional relationship and a wonderful friendship with one of the most determined and intrepid humans I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Wright has been documenting distant, delicate, and disappearing cultures, as well as areas stricken by war, poverty, and natural disasters, for decades. Her work has garnered many awards, and she writes and speaks about her experiences in deeply moving ways. Her dedicated focus on the beauty of indigenous tribes and rapidly disappearing ways of life recalls for me the work of Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952), who painstakingly photographed the people of the American West in his masterwork The North American Indian. 

While Wright has made countless voyages around the world on humanitarian assignments, Grit and Grace, Women at Work is her passion project, begun when she was on assignment in Nicaragua in 2012. There she witnessed the resilience of women in the most difficult circumstances, supporting their children by searching through landfills for rubber and other materials for one dollar a day. In the years since, Wright’s travels have taken her to Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Japan, Tanzania, the Congo, Myanmar, Liberia, Bangladesh, Mexico, and many more countries to witness women working to survive and to transform their communities.

The many subtexts for this body of work are rich. Of course the project has women and gender at its center, but it is also about the labor the women do, the tools they use, the innovations they make, the power of ownership and economic development they experience, and, most importantly for them, why they do what they do: for their children to have a better life. Overarching human themes reveal themselves, too, including the never-to-be-underestimated power of education, community, collaboration, and having a sense of purpose.

Concurrently, this project exposes some of the world’s harshest physical and emotional conditions—and our connection to them. Even from far away, we are unfortunately complicit in creating those conditions. Many of the things we consume rely upon the labor of these hardworking women. We create demand through the clothes we buy in “fast fashion” stores, our habitual reach for single-use plastic and plastics of all kinds, and the relentless throw-away mentality of our commercial consumer world. Larger environmental problems, like catastrophic drought, fire, and flooding, are brought on by the use of fossil fuels that perpetuate and aggravate these conditions. When we start to re-evaluate and change our behaviors, we will help to loosen the grip on global manufacturing and environmental destruction that our economic demand for products has created.

Grit and Grace, Women at Work is Alison Wright’s first solo museum exhibition in America. How fitting for it to open during Women’s History Month in a year marking the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. National Geographic celebrated this milestone with the book WOMEN: The National Geographic Image Collection, featuring iconic images of women throughout time and around the globe, including two of Wright’s images. This exhibition is not only timely but it is also a powerful reminder that our past, present, and future actions impact and affect each other deeply, no matter where in the world we are.

— Katherine Gass Stowe, Curator

This exhibit and related events are presented in partnership with the Vermont Women’s Fund.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Alison Wright has journeyed the world as a photographer for more than two decades, focusing her efforts on human rights issues and documenting the traditions of changing cultures around the world.

Wright’s photography has appeared in numerous publications, including National Geographic magazine, National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, Islands, Smithsonian, American Photo, Natural History, Time, Forbes, O: The Oprah Magazine, The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Outside, and San Francisco Chronicle.

She is a recipient of the Dorothea Lange Award in Documentary Photography for her photographs of child labor in Asia and a two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award.

Her writing and photographs have been published in her books Faces of Hope: Children of a Changing World; The Dalai Lama: A Simple Monk; and The Spirit of Tibet: Portrait of a Culture in Exile, as well as through the Discovery Channel Photo Journeys series.

On January 2, 2000, Wright’s life was nearly cut short during a horrific bus accident on a remote jungle road in Laos. Wright’s recent memoir, Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival, chronicles her inspirational story of survival, years of rehabilitation, and ongoing determination to recover and continue to travel the world as an intrepid photojournalist.

SELECTED IMAGES FROM THE EXHIBITION (link)

RELATED EVENTS

Opening of New Exhibits – March 14, Saturday, 3-5 p.m.
Grit and Grace: A Talk by Alison Wright – March 14, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Curator Tour: Katherine Gass Stowe – April 18, Saturday, 1 p.m.
In Pursuit of Disobedient Women: A Talk & Book Signing by Dionne Searcey – April 23, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

SELECTED MEDIA COVERAGE

National Geographic photographer Alison Wright to speak at Next StageThe Commons (3/4/20)
Eight new exhibits to open at BMAC – Rutland Herald (3/9/20)
Photography, multimedia, and more– Brattleboro Reformer (3/12/20)
Photographer empowers women at work through photos – Deerfield Valley News (3/12/20)

For media inquiries, please contact Erin Jenkins at erin@brattleboromuseum.org or 802-257-0124 x113.