When a children's museum or a museum of cultural heritage asks me to work on an exhibition, I am unabashedly the anthropologist who dives into the subject at hand with research approaches developed over years of fieldwork in Mexican Indian villages. I felt I could learn about indigenous cultures best by going door-to-door and talking for hours, days, weeks and months with different people. House to house led to attending weddings, funerals, washing in the river, churches, markets and even to a church were I held the baby who became my Zapotec godson. In an urban context where I needed to learn about cultural diversity in the Brooklyn neighborhood Crown Heights, my co-Curator, Dr. Craig Wilder and I spent over a year meeting Haitians, Jamaicans and other Caribbeans, Lubavitcher Hasidim and African Americans by doing the same thing -- going to their houses, churches, synagogues, schools and festivities.
To create an exhibition, you have to go to the sources. I immerse myself in the subject matter in the same way that I did in Mexican villages many years ago. My good fortune is to have always been blessed with finding people who guide me into their cultures, sit with me 'til dawn explaining their views, teach me the "do's and don'ts" and open the doors to their philosophy, realities, language and ways of life. Only with these levels of information, accuracy and trust in hand can information be transformed into a museum exhibition.
No fieldwork was quite like that done for the emotionally-charged exhibition Yahrzeit: September 11 Observed at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage. The door-to-door approach was transformed into long, focused telephone calls to over 200 people, all of whom had something unique to say about their experiences on the 11th and the weeks and months following.
Because everyone experienced September 11, albeit in many different ways at different distances, this research required a sensitivity to those stories that was unlike any other in my career. With each conversation, I was entrusted with a story that, in its very telling, expressed a deep emotional candor rarely shown to a stranger. Ironically, each story affirmed life in dramatically different terms. In the videos you see here, I discuss the making of Yahrzeit in a series of short responses to questions I was frequently asked about curating this exhibition.