Into the unknown
I’ve been reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent book, In the Heart of the Sea, about the whaling ship Essex (it sank in the Pacific Ocean in 1820 after tangling with a sperm whale and became Herman Melville’s inspiration for the novel Moby Dick). The surviving crewmembers, adrift in the ship’s boats, had to decide where their best chance of rescue lay — and they chose to head toward the coast of South America, 2000 miles away, rather than seek out one of the much closer South Pacific islands for fear of possible cannibals. The irony is especially striking if you know how their tragic story turned out: in the end, they became the very thing they feared. Things might have turned out very differently; maybe they would have found cannibals on the islands, but they might just as well have found a warm and friendly group of people ready to welcome and shelter them.
The unknown can be uncomfortable or even frightening; and I found myself thinking seriously about this as I prepared to share the photos I shot during September 2019 at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum. I had spent my afternoon wandering among the American and European art collections and only noticed these amazing pieces in the lobby and along the wall as I was hurrying toward the door to head home.
But now I’m sitting here rebuking myself for not engaging with the unfamiliar treasures from this part of the world after recalling how I’ve always passed by the de Young Museum gallery focused on the art of Africa and Oceania. It may have something to do with being greeted by the sight of the towering “skull rack” — the only photo I shot here before hurrying on to less intimidating 18th century American art — but I do think I need to work on widening my cultural scope.