“The Internet Is Helping Us / The Internet Is Killing Us”

As in other contemporary democracies, Sierra Leoneans turned to WhatsApp and Facebook for updates on candidates, campaigns, and unpredictable events during their June 2023 presidential elections. Many of the images that circulated freely through these platforms might be seen as graphic or incendiary; at one point, the government declared that “the biggest threat to national security is negative use of social media.” Yet such messages are not passively consumed or impulsively acted upon. Viewers scrutinize, critique, and learn from images in ways they have also used portrayals of other violent events like road accidents and the country’s 1991-2002 civil war. On display are various cell phones, their screens blurred. Viewers can choose to imagine the often explicit content for themselves or to trust the phone owners’ descriptions and their explanation of the images’ value.

Unsettled Accounts
Samuel Mark Anderson, curator
Marzia Balzani and Usman Ahmad
Sohail Karmani
Daungyewa Utarasint
October 12 – November 1, 2023

Increasingly complex flows of people and data across the globe raise questions that are evermore critical, complicated, and contingent. How do we find agency and community in new environments? How do we maintain connections with our homelands? How do we relate to other people and institutions? How do we determine which information to trust? How do we tell our stories when we cannot control how they will be judged? The answers are never fixed but tactics emerge as we learn to live with uncertainty. The works on display emerge from experiments in visual research designed to document mobile individuals and information that continuously take up new meanings in new contexts. Each of these projects attempts to capture the indeterminacies—whether hopeful or anxious—that arise as people and ideas move. Taken together, they suggest that our lives, our politics, and our information are all to some degree nomadic: there’s always another job, another home, another vote, another story, another perspective.

An initiative of the NYUAD Arts and Humanities Division, Research Kitchens are thematic hubs for building communities of researchers across disciplinary boundaries. The research kitchen “Culture, Rights, and Representation in and for the 21st Century” engages theoretical and practical questions about rights and representation in our time, with particular attention to the complexities and paradoxes of justice, reconciliation, and tolerance within and between societies and the distinctive contributions the arts and humanities make towards understanding the challenges of living together on equal and dignified terms.