Friday, September 3, 2010

"Safe for Public Consumption:" Art by Gitmo Detainees

Slate has an exclusive look at art made by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Although I don't pretend to know a ton about the 176 who are still held at the prison, I've followed events around Gitmo for a long time (last post I did on Gitmo was here), and I found this particular piece to be fascinating. The military/USG has never let detainee artwork be made public before, citing concerns about hidden messages. I'm curious as to what was rejected for public "consumption." And I wonder why, at this particular time, they would choose to release these drawings, especially since a military tribunal is about to try Omar Khadr, the alleged "enemy combatant" captured in Afghanistan at age 15 in 2002 (I won't delve into the child soldier/trying children as adults issue here...too many worms coming out of that can).

I found the similar choice of color palette across different pieces interesting--it's dark and a bit off putting, and it made me think of Mark Rothko's shift from brighter tones into the black paintings of his final years before his suicide or of the strange, mustard-y colors that Vincent Van Gogh used at times. I started thinking about solitary confinement, and then this article from The New Yorker in March 2009 came to mind. I wonder what Guantanamo has done to the people that my government has put there. I mean that specifically in a mental sense (physical abuse and torture is another matter)--how denial of basic human rights and contact with the outside world, as well as persistent use of solitary confinement, have taken a toll on the minds of those 176 still in Gitmo and whether that gets reflected in the artwork they've created.


  1. How could it not be reflected in their artwork and how could their time at Guantanamo not fuck with their heads?

    I don't know if you have heard about the renewed interest in Jon Burge here in Chicago. He is a notorious former police commander here in Chicago who tortured hundreds of people in Chicago (mainly black). One of the torture survivors came and spoke at school on Monday. He was convicted for murder because a confession he made while being tortured by Burge. He talked a lot about the psychological impact of prison and confinement. How the conditions just force your mind to do crazy things... scary.

  2. I'll have to check on the Jon Burge story...I know that human rights violations/abuse and assault by law enforcement still occur in the US, but I feel like we've come such a long way. Check out, for example, at the (obviously fictional) US remake of the BBC show Life on Mars. It's about a NYC cop from the 2000s who somehow ends up time traveling to the 1970s. The cops he works with routinely beat suspects and witnesses, as he (and we) look on in horror.

    That must have been an amazing speech to hear.

    Thanks for reading.