Moath al-Alwi, Model of a Ship, 2015. Image via Art From Guantánamo Bay by Erin Thompson
A current exhibit featuring the work of Guantánamo Bay detainees is under the crosshairs of the Department of Defense, whose new policy calls for the exhibit’s shutdown. Titled “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” the exhibition is currently being presented at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and features 36 paintings and sculptures created by current and former detainees at the Guantánamo Bay military prison camp. Now, art crime professor Erin Thompson, who curated the show with archivist Paige Laino and artist/poet Charles Shields, has launched an online petition protesting the policy.
Launched on October 2, the exhibition includes several evocative works that focus around the ocean. Artnet reports that the pieces — some of which were created by men held indefinitely without trial — were examined for hidden messages and cleared by the military. The colorful assemblage includes elaborate model of ships, sculptures made from MRE boxes and a collection of paintings and drawings. The Art From Guantánamo Bay website also provides a short profile of each artist and the inspiration by his work.
Under the Department of Defense’s new policy, Guantánamo detainee art is considered the “property of the U.S. government,” the Miami Herald reports. The military has consequently stopped the release of screened prisoner art to the public and reportedly intends to burn any additional art that leaves the prison camp. According to The New York Post, John Jay College of Criminal Justice is currently preparing for the seizure of the works.
Since its launch, the online petition — directed at Department of Defense, President Trump and the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, among others — has garnered the support of over 800 people.
“Let them know that burning art is something done by fascist and terrorist regimes—but not by the American people,” it reads. “Art is an expression of the soul. This art belongs to the detainees and to the world.”
“Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay” is now on view at the President’s Gallery at John Hay College of Criminal Justice. The exhibit is free and open to all. For more information, click here.
Next, check out The Top 10 Secrets of Rikers Island, NYC’s Main Jail Complex