Browse the listings of upcoming exhibitions in New York City this spring, and you will notice something striking: many of the shows attempt to contextualize the current political climate in America. Demonstrations, marches, and protests take center stage; freedom of speech is held out as both fortification and a challenge. Even exhibitions that have been on the books for a while—Whose Streets? Our Streets! at the Bronx Documentary Center was originally conceived in 2014—take on new meaning in a country that is increasingly being defined by the terms “us” and “them.”

In this polarized atmosphere, the curators of these exhibitions are not shying away from exposing the tumult of emotions and reactions that galvanized their shows; their statements run the gamut from messages of acceptance and inclusivity to battle cries or even laments for lost freedoms. Here, we present a selection of images from four such exhibitions along with excerpts from their curators.

—Coralie Kraft

Terrorized, 2006. © JoAnn Verburg; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

SPEECH at Pace/MacGill

To speak freely is a creative act. Without our bodies or instruments, we have only our voices to express invention. The protection of free speech, written into the DNA of our country, enshrines perhaps the most basic and cherished creative outlet we have.

In celebration of a long, proud history of making our voices heard, Speech explores the photographic tradition of documenting our oratory and expressive moments. Just as a whisper may resonate with equal or greater power as words spoken through a megaphone, a photograph taken candidly in passing may capture a higher truth or poetry than a magazine cover.

Runs through April 29, 2017.

B & B Electronics Store Owner with children, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 1999. © Mel Rosenthal. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York and the photographer.

Muslim in New York at the Museum of the City of New York

Muslim in New York paints a group portrait of New Yorkers who have greatly enriched the life of the city. Muslims have been woven into the fabric of New York since the city’s origins as New Amsterdam. “This special installation comes at a time when the place of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries is being scrutinized, and even challenged, on a national level,” said Whitney Donhauser, the Museum’s Director. “The Museum’s rich photography collection speaks eloquently to the enormous diversity of our city and the many ways in which immigration and religious diversity has enriched and benefited New York, the quintessential city of immigrants. We are proud to display these beautiful images of Muslims in New York as part of that story.”

On view until July 30, 2017.

The Pink Chair, 2008 © Holly Andres, courtesy Robert Mann Gallery

Birds of a Feather at Robert Mann

The year 2016 saw the end of many things. Suddenly January 20th was no longer to be a day of celebration but was transformed overnight into the country’s “best by” date. Birds of a Feather is a curatorial response to the thoughts and emotions surrounding recent political events. It is a group exhibition revolving around a symbol of peace, hope and freedom.

As the proverb goes: “birds of a feather flock together.” During the course of the 2016 presidential election in America, this idiom took on new meaning. This exhibition pays homage to this solidarity in a candid collection of bird imagery. The significance of some photographs in this reactionary context is quite transparent: a finch with wings outstretched invokes feelings of peace, hope and promise for things yet to come. For other works, the caged birds take on a more poetic meaning as cages become metaphors for the glass ceiling that so recently showed signs of shattering.

Runs through March 18, 2017.

Whose Streets? Our Streets! A demonstrator against the capitol punishment of Mumia Abu Jamal. © Sylvia Plachy. Showing at the Bronx Documentary Center.

Whose Streets? Our Streets! at the Bronx Documentary Center

This exhibit captures ordinary New Yorkers as they rallied, rioted, marched, and demonstrated during historic moments of confrontation, both violent and non-violent. Featuring images from the Tompkins Square Park and Crown Heights Riots as well as organized protests involving non-violent civil disobedience and creative street theater, these photographs, which have never before been exhibited together, chronicle New York’s history from 1980-2000.

During these two decades of swift economic and demographic change, residents grappled with social issues including race relations, police brutality, housing and gentrification, AIDS and gay and lesbian rights, reproductive rights, U.S. foreign policy and military actions, art and the culture wars, environmental and animal rights issues, and education and labor relations.

On view through March 5, 2017.