Gallery exhibit offers glimpse of ‘Cancer Alley’

A new exhibit in Northeastern University’s Gallery 360 presents a chilling view of the industrialized landscape of the Mississippi River corridor stretching from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, known as “Cancer Alley” due to the unusually high reports of cancer and other disease in the area.

The exhibit, titled “Petrochemical America,” is a collaboration between photographer Richard Misrach and Kate Orff, a New York-based landscape architect and an assistant professor at Columbia University. It features photographs and visualized data that together portray a unique part of the Mississippi River corridor. Misrach’s pictures of landscape, homes, and factories in the area are complimented by Orff’s Ecological Atlas, which includes visualizations of pipelines off the coast of Louisiana and bayou ecosystems affected by the petrochemical industry.

Gallery 360, the Northeastern Center for the Arts, the Urban Landscape Program, and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute worked together to set up this exhibit, which will be on display until March 15.

“We feet this exhibit represents three strong programs we have in the College of Arts, Media and Design: photography, information design & data visualization, and urban landscape,” said Bree Edwards, director of the Northeastern Center for the Arts. “It is incredibly rare for one exhibition to touch on so many disciplines. They are also stunning photos.”

Jane Amidon, director of the urban landscape program, and University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences Phil Brown, director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, played important roles in securing the exhibit’s two-month stay at Gallery 360.

Amidon noted that this exhibit visualizes environmental effects, such as air contamination, that are generally invisible. The media also serves as a tool for those in the landscape or sustainability fields to educate the public about how environmental injustices have harmed the area and solutions to those problems.

“In a beautiful and terrifying way, this exhibit visualizes what is happening to the environment and implies this is also happening to our health,” Amidon said.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Northeastern Center for the Arts will host a micro-conference on Monday titled “Grounds for Engagement: design, landscape, and environmental health,” beginning at noon in the Curry Student Center’s McLeod Suites. Following the conference, a 2:30 p.m. reception will be held in Gallery 360, where Orff will lead a tour of the exhibit.

The conference will include a discussion of tools and strategies for visualizing environmental data and the health impacts of industrial landscapes. In addition to Orff, the featured speakers will comprise Northeastern assistant professor Sara Wylie and Laura Perovich, a data experience researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wylie, who holds joint appointments in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, is an expert in environmental justice and environmental health.

“We wanted this conference to have a conversational tone and provide an opportunity for people at Northeastern who are doing interesting work in environmental health, sustainability, art, and design to come together and get to know each other,” Edwards explained.