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Alexandra Croitoru. Untitled, from the series ROM_, 2004–6. Courtesy of the artist.

Three Artists on Power, Citizenship, and Collective Imagination

Alexandra Croitoru, Sarah Pickering, and Anna Rackard share reflections on the meaning of citizenship.

A new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum brings together nearly 50 artists who are grappling with questions of power, identity, and history through the medium of photography. The show—titled In the Now: Gender and Nation in Europe, Selections from the Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl Photography Collection—presents works by women artists born or based in Europe, many of whom address the legacies of European nationalism, colonialism, and violence. We asked three of those artists to reflect on the meaning of citizenship in their lives at this contemporary moment.

In the Now: Gender and Nation in Europe, Selections from the Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl Photography Collection is on view March 8–July 7, 2024.


Alexandra Croitoru: As I am trying to answer the question, What does being a citizen mean to you? I am thinking of another question that was on my mind while producing works like ROM_ in the 2000s: How does a community relate to “The Other” and how does the identity-alterity apparatus function at the national level? The photographs from the series appeared as an acknowledgment of Romanian identity—against a xenophobic Western European backdrop, but also as a reaction to the local obsession of adhering to transnational structures like NATO or EU—exposing a label that turns out to be an edifice of imagination, a simplification, a generalization; in one word, a cliché. 

I also wonder, at what point will we stop seeing ourselves exclusively as citizens of nations rather than citizens of the world?

Many things have changed since then, others have not. Emphasizing national identity and promising to limit immigration, nationalist parties continue to do well in elections, being supported by an increasing number of people. And I still need a visa to attend an art event at the Brooklyn Museum. But while nationality is innate, urgent matters like climate change have the power to make us equal (and responsible) citizens of an endangered planet Earth, working together to overcome the vulnerability, inequality, or discrimination that some of us are still experiencing.


Sarah Pickering: Whenever work gets framed within curatorial themes and shown alongside others it offers me an opportunity to revisit and examine how my work communicates with an audience. I’m interested in thinking about the idea of Nation in relation to my practice as an artist and what it means to be showing work as a European female in the United States. In a way, artists are ambassadors of their nation’s culture on an international stage.

Landmine was photographed in 2005 in response to the Iraq war, and it’s devastating that now in 2024 this work is shown with the backdrop of current brutal conflicts. I made the work thinking about the representation of warfare, the impossibility of truly understanding violence when it’s not experienced first hand, and the complexity of explosives providing thrilling entertainment in the form of blockbuster movies and gaming.


Sarah Pickering. Landmine, from the series Explosion, 2005. Chromogenic print. The Sir Mark Fehra Haukohl Photography Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum. © Sarah Pickering. (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

This is a pyrotechnic exploding within England’s mundane landscape—a former airfield in Lincolnshire, and not the rolling hills that were romanticized by British landscape painters. Landmine is a manufacturer’s test of a training device used to create a sense of realism for the British military in practice for warfare that takes place in other territories. My work looks at ideas of authenticity, and touches on the way national interests are played out in an international field. As a British, working-class woman, [I create artwork that] explores hierarchies from a feminist perspective where male protagonists and power are exposed as performative.

Nation is something that can’t be seen; it’s part of a collective imagination and a defined sense of identity and belonging. In many countries, including Britain, political discourse about national identity centers on the exclusion of others instead of celebrating culture, creativity, critical thinking, inclusivity, and recognizing diversity within a nation. 


Anna Rackard: I am a citizen of Ireland. For me, that means to be treated equally to all other citizens, regardless of gender, color, religion, ability or disability, and wealth, or lack of it. Ireland is consistently ranked as one of the most democratic, socially progressive countries in the world. This wasn’t always so. The Ireland that I grew up in was a patriarchal, Catholic nation, and for the longest time, one of the poorest in Europe. In my early 20s, I expected I would have to emigrate. Then the economy changed, enabling me to stay. Things were looking up, unemployment was going down and the economy was thriving. Ireland—a country that had changed so little for so long—was now undergoing rapid social and cultural change. 

However, Irish attitudes to the equality of its citizens took longer to change, and, for another decade, we remained a country with conservative views on the rights of citizens in relation to sexuality, marriage, divorce, and abortion. I accepted this as part of the uncomfortable norm.

Anna Rackard, Betty Guiltrap, 2005. Inkjet print sheet. The Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl Photography Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum. © Anna Rackard. (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Thankfully in recent decades, Irish citizens have voted to liberalize our constitutional rights and make way for a more inclusive country. It’s an ongoing process and much remains to be done to enlarge and enhance our definition of what it means to be an Irish citizen. However, I am happy to live in a country that is trying to change for the better and to take into account the rights of all its citizens.

As the world becomes more digitally connected, we are becoming more globally connected, and mass immigration poses a dilemma for many countries. While I appreciate the privilege of being an Irish citizen, I also wonder, at what point will we stop seeing ourselves exclusively as citizens of nations rather than citizens of the world? 


Corinne Segal is Senior Digital Producer at the Brooklyn Museum.