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Optics: Health, Crisis, and Care

Date Apr 07, 2020
Type Panel

This three-part sub-series of Optics: A New Way of Seeing Contemporary Culture will focus on Health, Crisis, and Care. For this first virtual conversation, ICP Director of Exhibitions and Collections Erin Barnett, scholar and curator of the 2019 Museum of the City of New York exhibition Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis Dr. Rebecca Jacobs, and host Reya Sehgal will look at visualizing viruses. 

From hand-washing graphics and emoji-clad face masks, to images of social distancing and empty spaces—what is the visual language of the COVID-19 pandemic? How have viruses and germs been depicted historically and today? How do we visualize the spread of contagions and the very concept of virality?  

Join Optics series host Reya Sehgal for this special virtual series exploring the photographs of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways photographs build understanding, inform policy, and themselves, go viral. 

About the Series

Hosted by artist and curator Reya Sehgal, Optics: A New Way of Seeing Contemporary Culture invites critics, artists, and imagemakers to analyze the pictures that shape contemporary culture and current events. The series considers the images, visual communications, and vision-related technologies that impact our times. In our current image-saturated society of 24-hour news cycles, social media, and memes, an understanding of the ways in which pictures are shaped, produced, distributed, remixed, and go viral is vital to an understanding of culture itself.


Reya Sehgal is an interdisciplinary artist and curator based in New York City. She has curated exhibitions and public programs at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, Brown University, Queens Museum, Project for Empty Space, Knockdown Center, and BRIC. Her artistic work has been seen, and experienced, at the DUMBO Arts Festival, AS220, Distillery Gallery, RISD Museum, Arab American National Museum, and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Sehgal is a member of the DIVERSITY FELLOWS! performance collaborative, and was the 2018–2019 post-graduate fellow in visual culture at the International Center of Photography.

Erin Barnett, Director of Exhibitions and Collections, returned to ICP in 2016 after a brief hiatus. She had previously worked in ICP’s Exhibitions and Collections department for eleven years. Her exhibitions include The Lower East Side: Selections from the ICP Collection (2020); James Coupe: Warriors (2020); Your Mirror: Selections from the ICP Collection (2019); Edmund Clark: The Day the Music Died (2018); The Loving Story: Photographs by Grey Villet (2012); President in Petticoats! Civil War Propaganda in Photographs (2012); and Hiroshima: Ground Zero 1945 (2011). 

Dr. Rebecca Hayes Jacobs is the Wellcome Trust Mental Health Curatorial Research Fellow at the Graduate Center, CUNY’s Center for the Humanities. She is working on the New York City component of Wellcome’s next international cultural project, which will focus on mental health. She was the 2017–2019 Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York, where she co-curated the exhibitions Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolisand Urban Indian: Native New York Now. Previously, Dr. Jacobs worked at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on a nationwide ethnographic study of retirement insecurity and inequality. Dr. Jacobs received her PhD in American Studies from Yale University with a concentration in public humanities.