Review: Devastating West African Ebola outbreak subject of CDC show


You know you’re in for a novel museum experience when your visit begins with a full car inspection and an ID check. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s David J. Sencer Museum is no ordinary art space, from that requisite security check to the global health perspective that informs this CDC lobby museum space.

“Ebola: People + Public Health + Political Will” proves once again the unique vantage offered by this museum in an exhibition centered on the modern pandemic of Ebola and the devastating 2014 outbreak that ravaged Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. These were already three of the poorest countries on Earth, crippled by waves of civil war and deeply broken infrastructure, so the outbreak of Ebola in a 2-year-old child in Guinea occurred in a region poorly equipped to handle the crisis. Over the course of the outbreak’s two-year run, 11,000 people died from the outbreak, many of them the local health care workers who sacrificed their lives to help others, in addition to a heroic cadre of international medical teams.

RELATED | Stopping Ebola: inside the CDC’s response

RELATED | Making history inside Emory’s Ebola unit

Copious wall text (didactic wall labels are the primary communicative form here) affirms that stopping a global health crisis was central to the international community’s actions in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak. But also at work was a global, moral imperative to do the right thing that drove aid agencies and governments around the world, including the United States’ CDC and its Department of Defense, the World Health Organization, the United Nations and organizations like UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders. Even Muslim and Christian clergy worked to defy regional prejudices and entrenched belief systems by finding a rationale for fighting Ebola in their religious teachings.

Art exhibitions rarely have a moral, but this one does: When tragedy strikes in one corner of the world, it is the responsibility of more privileged nations to step in and help. With its mix of world-class photography; lab equipment; wooden tools used in local burials; the elaborate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) donned by health workers in the field fighting Ebola; diaries of health workers and in-country briefings; audio testimony from CDC responders; and educational materials, among many other elements, the exhibition is a powerful multimedia testament to the global cooperation involved in defeating this crisis.

Difficult realities also impeded the spread of information about the disease, including remote villages, public distrust in institutions, and long-established traditions such as burial customs and folk medicine. Fighting Ebola, this exhibition affirms, was not just a public health matter, but a public relations, diplomatic and logistical puzzle. Some of the most fascinating elements in the exhibition are artist-made murals, but also government-disseminated comics and posters that in frank and graphic ways, informed the public about how to prevent and contend with the spread of Ebola, from hand-washing to avoidance of “bushmeat,” the wild animals such as bats, primates and cane rats — whose hunting, butchering and processing was the likely source of the virus jump from animal to human.

The experience of visiting “Ebola: People + Public Health + Political Will” is fairly complex; by turns enlightening, heartbreaking, horrifying, but also surreal for Western audiences buffered by oceans and prosperity from the cataclysm that consumed West Africa. The exhibition may be the first real encounter with something many of us experienced in headlines and news reports, more as an abstraction unfolding far away.

“Ebola” also attests to the lasting toll of the outbreak. Ebola’s effects endure: 16,000 children lost parents and the emotional, psychological and economic hardships that befell its victims lingered long after the outbreak was contained.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

What is Earth Day? 5 things to know
What is Earth Day? 5 things to know

Sunday is Earth Day 2018, and more than one billion people across the globe are expected to celebrate with environmentally friendly events. But what exactly is Earth Day? Here's what you need to know: >> Read more trending news  The first Earth Day celebration took place 48 years ago, in 1970, after a devastating oil spill in America brought...
Concert review and photos: Pink flies high with dazzling return to Atlanta
Concert review and photos: Pink flies high with dazzling return to Atlanta

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene (This review was originally posted at 1:25 a.m. on April 22, 2018) Think what you want about Pink, but don’t doubt her integrity – as a musician, a performer, a humanitarian. She’s as real as it gets. So yeah, you try this while singing. Pink apparently has no problem! Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC...
Kim Zolciak likely departing ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ yet again
Kim Zolciak likely departing ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ yet again

Posted Sunday, April 22, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog Here we go again. Kim Zolciak is not coming back to “Real Housewives of Atlanta” after a short-lived part-time stint season ten, according to Us magazine. Five years ago, Zolciak walked out on “The Real Housewives...
Inside the birth of the Weather Channel
Inside the birth of the Weather Channel

When the Weather Channel launched in 1982, its founder, John Coleman, knew he was on to the start of something important and something special. In its first night on air, he presciently told viewers that the channel would “become the nation’s primary source of weather information” and that it would “serve the nation with information...
Concert review and photos: Bon Jovi romps through classics at Philips Arena return
Concert review and photos: Bon Jovi romps through classics at Philips Arena return

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene Ten songs into a two-hour-plus romp, Bon Jovi went back to the very beginning. Amber lights created a halo around David Bryan’s curls as he tapped out the signature opening of the band’s first hit, 1984’s “Runaway.” David Bryan, in his usual spot. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC...
More Stories