SDSU Art Display Nears End, But Collections Continue to Grow

Throughout 2015, an “Art of Peoples Temple and Jonestown” collection – previously detailed here – has been on display as part of a larger exhibit focusing solely on the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project at Jonestown, Guyana. Even as the year-long exhibit approaches its end in December, the art collection will continue to grow as a home for creations by artists working across a range of media – creations that are reshaping the narrative of Jonestown.

07-ray-posterv5_0Peoples Temple at Jonestown: Interpretations of Jonestown in Art, Photography, Sound, Film, and Words showcases various attempts since 1978 to interpret and find meaning in the Jonestown community and tragedy through works of art, photography, sound, documentary film, theater, poetry, fiction and non-fiction texts. Highlighting these various works shows how the Peoples Temple movement of the 1960s and ’70s has informed and influenced many different attempts to interpret the events. The Jonestown tragedy has been interpreted and perceived by artists and others in ways far different than has so often been portrayed in the media, and this exhibit has focused on the kinds of artistic works that use Jonestown as the point of departure for explorations that extend beyond the events themselves. To perceive Jonestown in ways far different than the more familiar portrayals presented by the media is critical, because the lessons we draw from Jonestown depend on what we think happened there. The exhibit is an effort to humanize the people of Jonestown, to offer different perspectives on the tragedy, and challenge simple explanations.

jonestown-exhibit-2014-15_0090Highlights of the exhibit include several works of art by Jonestown artist Nancy Virginia Sines; a painting by Annie Moore; photographs of life in Jonestown taken by the Moore family; cassette copies of the 971 audio tapes recovered by the FBI from Jonestown; several documentary film and audio resources on the Jonestown tragedy; works of fiction based on Jonestown; most of the works representing the historiography of Jonestown, including the writings of Rebecca Moore; and FBI photographs taken at Jonestown, as well as photographs taken with Rep. Leo Ryan’s camera at the Kaituma airstrip. Also included are photos of anniversary services held at the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland.

13-jonestown-exhibit-2014-15_0015Notable highlights of the exhibit are Laura Baird’s “Jonestown Carpet” and the associated book Jonestown Dead, as well as a selection of four works from an important series of paintings of Jonestown by the artist Terry Gordon.

Recently received and included in the exhibit is Beautiful Revolutionary: A TV Drama by Laura Elizabeth Woollett, writer and editor from Melbourne, Australia. According to Laura, this planned three-season television drama “tells the story of Carolyn Moore Layton, chief aide and principal mistress of the Reverend Jim Jones. Beginning in 1968 in Redwood Valley, Beautiful Revolutionary will follow Carolyn and Peoples Temple from their sunny California beginnings to the depths of the Guyanese jungle.”

One very special item on display in the exhibit is a Jones Family Photograph Album, a generous gift from Stephan Jones and one of two albums and another collection of photographs that Stephan has donated to Special Collections. Both albums have been digitized and can be viewed along with other materials in the Peoples Temple Collection, including a sampling of highlights from selected audiotapes.

(A later article about this exhibit appeared in the November 11, 2015 edition of San Diego City Beat.

(Robert Ray is head of Special Collections at San Diego State University Library. His other story in this edition of the jonestown report is Important New Collections of Peoples Temple Material Gifted to San Diego State. He can be reached at