The art of the Guantanamo Bay detainees

A new exhibit in New York shares art from an unlikely place: Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. Current and former detainees have created work that represent their experiences as prisoners — even episodes of torture — often using whatever nontraditional materials they can find. Special correspondent Arun Rath reports.

Arun Rath:

The artwork at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan reflects what is studied here. Galleries take on themes related to crime and the law, human rights and dissent, art that reflects justice and injustice.

The entrance is lined with work depicting 9/11 first-responders.

Upstairs, in another exhibit, a piece of art from a man who’s on trial for his alleged role in supporting the attack. “Vertigo” by Ammar Al-Baluchi is not about 9/11. It reflects his torture at the hands of the CIA, which was documented in a Senate report.
Erin Thompson:

It’s just a swirl of lines and dots, and he drew it to show his lawyers what happens when he experiences vertigo, when he can no longer see, which is the result of a traumatic brain injury he suffered during interrogation.
Arun Rath:

Erin Thompson is an art professor at John Jay, and she’s studied the strange intersections of criminality and art, but art from Gitmo detainees was a surprise.
Erin Thompson:

One of the lawyers for detainees approached me and said, I want my clients’ art to be exhibited. I said, what do you mean? There’s art made at Guantanamo?

What hit me at first was how normal they seem. Shouldn’t their drawings be so much more angry? And it took me a long time to realize that they — that these artists want to show beauty. Read more