Who remembers Abu Ghraib? Why should we remember Abu Ghraib?
Abu Ghraib represents an era of imperial conquest that began in 2003 in Iraq and before that in 2001 in Afghanistan. With its forces now out of Afghanistan, the United States has no reason to remember Abu Ghraib. But the world at the mercy of the whims of this dysfunctional empire does.
Abu Ghraib was a prison complex that took the name of the city near Baghdad where it was built.
For years, Saddam Hussein used it to unlawfully imprison, torture, maim and murder dissidents and political opponents. Then the US took it over to do more of the same.
For people who have been raped, whose bones have been broken and whose souls have been crushed there, it made no difference whether their ordeal was ordered and approved by Saddam Hussein or George W Bush.
But at least Saddam Hussein never pretended to be the duly elected president of a democracy. With George W Bush and his ilk, however, the world had to endure endless denials, and tiresome lectures about “American values”.
‘The United States does not torture’
In 2004, three years into the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a number of dreadful photographs surfaced that showed members of the US military, security, and intelligence forces physically, mentally, and sexually torturing Iraqi and other inmates not just in Abu Ghraib, but also in Guantanamo Bay and other similar locations in Afghanistan.
These photos the American torturers took of themselves and their victims to send to their friends and families in order to boast of the terror they had been unleashing on Arabs and Muslims soon became iconic – emblematic of an immoral decadence that did not quite sit with the centuries-old propaganda that the US is the “shining city upon the hill”.
Americans were torturing people, maiming and murdering them, forcing them into deranged sexual acts. It was ugly. How could these people do such things?
Soon the global media began spreading these pictures to the point of numbing our senses. Existential questions emerged. The depth of the depravity of the people who did these things to other human beings soon escaped any meaningful registers.
Names such as Specialist Charles Graner, PFC Lynndie England, or Brigadier General Janis Karpinski became synonymous with the horror of Abu Ghraib torture chambers, but names like George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld remained respected and honoured in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. Americans soon lost track of these names. Their amnesia eventually led to the election of Donald Trump. Thus, 9/11 became a pathway to 1/6 – the day the US Capitol was invaded and ransacked by the militant white supremacist cult of Trump.
‘The Art of Torture?’
Soon after their publication, a number of artists began to look at these horrid pictures with a different set of eyes, perhaps to enable us to see their horrors better. But did we really need to see those horrors better? Would we not be better off looking at the barbarity of the raw evidence itself?
In a series he called Oh Boy! Oh Boy!, Swiss visual artist Daniele Buetti transformed these photographs into stained-glass mosaics. They looked disturbingly familiar, uncannily beautiful. People who viewed them were put in an odd position: peeping into American torture chambers through a “lovely looking glass”. Were we supposed to be horrified at their beauty or enamoured by their terror?
There was something deeply disturbing about this rush to put an aesthetic turn on torture. I remember my immediate reaction was that was too soon, too early, that these pictures should remain decidedly undecipherable for a while. Artists were in too much of a rush, perhaps out of a basic human instinct of visceral reaction, to decipher them, read them, paint them, interpret them, incorporate them into their own distinct visual vocabularies.
Perhaps the most widely known artistic renditions of the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib were by the Colombian figurative artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero, who in a series of commanding visual renditions of those pictures made their terror look like something people would pay to buy and hang in museums, art galleries, art festivals, crowded Biennales. The frightful facts of what had happened in Abu Ghraib had been registered in a number of crude snapshots sent to friends and family as “souvenirs,” and now widely aestheticised to be consumed by festival curators and art galleries and their customers.
There was something obscene about this whole spectacle. What about the screams of a solitary human being at the mercy of an American torturer? What happened to that cry from the depth of human suffering? In the dark dungeons of what subterranean history did that cry get lost?
Art historians like Helena Guzik began researching the subject of art and torture further back in history and, in learned essays like, Visual Forms, Visceral Themes: Understanding Bodies, Pain, and Torture in Renaissance Art (2014), explored “the implications of Renaissance philosophies surrounding the human body in the context of pain and particularly the physical suffering endured during torture.”
The work of an American artist, Susan Crile, came close to exploring those pictures without rendering them into spaces of faded and fractured abstractions. But still when her work was reviewed in the New York Times, the reviewer coyly said she “hesitate[d] to use the word lyrical”.
Lyrical? Really – depictions of torture?
There remained something deeply familiar about these pictures American torturers took of their Iraqi inmates – they looked like those white racist murderers took of their victims when they lynched them, hanging them from a tree. “Strange Fruit”, the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday called them in an iconic song. The trees bearing those fruits had been planted in Iraq by the selfsame racist thuggery that had terrorised the South, and which had now gone East.
Art of Resistance
Iraqi artists were of course not sitting idly by in face of the US invasion and destruction of their homeland or the Abu Ghraib atrocities, of which they had memories that went further back from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to Saddam Hussein himself.
“It is our duty as artists to feel what our countrymen are feeling and suffering,” Qasim Alsabti was quoted as saying in 2004 when he and 24 other Iraqi artists produced a “series of sculptures, paintings, and installations depicting the horrors of Abu Ghraib at the Hewar Art Gallery in the Wazerieh district of central Baghdad.”
More recently, in 2019, the works of a group of artists from the US, Iraq, and Kuwait were curated in a major exhibition at MoMA PS1, for a reflection back on the horrors their people had experienced at a time when, as a review in the New York Times put it, people had no interest in remembering. Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011 was barely noticed by the public at large, despite the fact that there were a few positive reviews of it in major media outlets.
Today you would scarcely find any news item in the US or Europe critically thinking about Abu Ghraib. They have no reason to do so. To the contrary, imperial cultures thrive on their intentional amnesia. History means nothing to empires, except for the delusional mythologies they keep feeding themselves.
There is, therefore, a direct link between the rush to aestheticise and exhibit the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the sudden disappearance of a troubling memory that should have remained indecipherable and troubling for a much longer time. But forgetfulness is precisely how this memoryless empire best survives, by least caring about the trail of terror and destruction it leaves behind as it wages its endless “war on terror”- now its paramount ideology of world domination, at a time when in that very world there is very little left to dominate.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
Del Mar unveils five new pieces of public art – Del Mar Times
The city of Del Mar’s temporary outdoor sculpture program has opened with five new works in downtown Del Mar, along a one-mile art stroll.
The Del Mar Foundation is providing approximately $15,000 in funding for the program over the first two years and the pieces will remain on display for up to 23 months.
Take the Del Mar art walk:
- Hanging Out by Maidy Morhous at 15th Street and Stratford Court
- Birds Eye View by Petrello and Graham at the southeast corner of 14th Street and Camino del Mar
- Terpsichore by David Beck Brown at the southeast corner of 12th Street and Camino del Mar
- Moonshadow by Jeffery Laudenslager and Deanne Sabeck at the northeast corner of 9th Street and Camino del Mar
- Pasaje a lo Infinito by Hugo Heredia at 5th Street and Camino del Mar
Before There Were Pockets: A Métis Youth Art Series – Métis Nation of Ontario – Metis Nation of Ontario
Before There Were Pockets
A Métis Youth Art Series
Part 1 – TOBACCO BAG
Thursday, November 18, 6-9 PM ET
Thursday, December 16, 6-9 PM ET
Part 2 – SASH BAG
Thursday, January 13, 6-9 PM ET
Thursday, February 10, 6-9 PM ET
Thursday, March 10, 6-9 PM ET
The Métis Nation of Ontario is excited to be hosting Before There Were Pockets- Métis Youth Arts Series this year across the province virtually through the Zoom platform.
This will be a once a month gathering of youth to learn a variety of traditional arts through the construction of a sash bag and tobacco bag. It is an informal opportunity for youth to connect with each other and work one-on-one with knowledge holders and staff. It will also be an opportunity to bring in special guests to speak about their artwork and journey. These workshops will allow participants to explore different skills and gain a deeper understanding of their Métis heritage. In order to receive the supplies for their session, all forms must be completed and participants are expected to attend all sessions. Access to technology and reliable internet is required to participate in the camp.
Space is limited, so please register and complete the application as soon as possible. Participants can access the Metis Nation of Ontario Application Portal at metisnation.smapply.io/.
Vancouver Island art councils work together on regional impact study – Parksville Qualicum Beach News – Parksville Qualicum Beach News
The Arts Council of Ladysmith is leading the way on a project that aims to get arts recognized as a significant industry on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. With funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, it partnered with other councils in the region to conduct an impact study to show the value art brings to communities.
“Itis larger than many industries, like the lumber industry and the fishing industry in our community and it’s probably not recognized because many of them are individuals,” said Kathy Holmes, president of the Arts Council of Ladysmith and District. “People don’t think of them as a business and really, artists are their own business.”
The arts council partnered with the Digital Innovation Group (DIG), a collective of island arts councils, to bring together nearly 1500 artists and art supporters in the spring to assess the economic, social, cultural and health impacts of arts in the region.
“No other art council has even attempted to do this. It’s been a huge project, we are exhausted and what’s coming out now is really important,” Holmes said.
DIG will present the study’s findings at this year’s Vancouver Island Economic Alliance Summit this month. The study found one in 20 people in the region is an artist and over 90 per cent of respondents felt arts are foundational to economic, community and individual wellness, according to DIG’s summary of findings.
“We were looking for meaningful data to quantify the contribution of the arts sector to our region and are thrilled to learn that there are over 35,000 artists and that our sector generates almost one billion dollars in direct economic outputs,” said Ora Steyn, vice president of the Ladysmith Arts Council.
The Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery has been operating out of the old school on Parkhill Terrace for the last two years and Holmes said it has had a large impact on the volume of visitors.
“The Membership is still being very faithful. We worked very hard at keeping them but the public is not coming in droves so we are trying to build that capacity again but it took us a long time to get to 13,000 people a year,” Holmes said.
The gallery will be hosting Yael Wand, a Salt Spring Island musician on Friday (Oct. 22.) Tickets are on sale now on the art council’s website.
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