Guantánamo Bay detainees display artwork at Catamount Arts, Vermont Arts Council
MONTPELIER, VT—The Spotlight Gallery of the Vermont Arts Council will present a selection of works from the Catamount Arts exhibition “Art from Guantánamo Bay” from June 22 through August 21.
Curated by Erin L. Thompson, the critically acclaimed exhibit features nearly 100 evocative works by six men held in the US military prison camp known as Guantánamo Bay. The six men have been held there for 20 years without being charged or convicted of a crime.
“The Art of Guantánamo Bay” has generated widespread media coverage around the world, leading to the creation of a ban since 2017 against the removal of artwork from the prison. These parts have been removed before.
The Catamount Arts exhibit will include works by detained artist Abdul Zahir, client of St. Johnsbury attorneys Robert Gensburg and David Sleigh, who volunteered for more than a decade with the Guantánamo Bay Bar Association . Sleigh and Robert’s widow Leslie Gensburg will join artist and former inmate Mansoor Adayfi for a panel discussion at Catamount Arts on June 26, moderated by Thompson. Adayfi will participate from Serbia via Zoom.
The exhibition is an expanded version of an earlier exhibition, “Ode to the Sea: The Art of Guantánamo,” whose title refers to a common and poignant theme among many paintings in the collection. Although the prison camp buildings have windows overlooking the Caribbean Sea, they are covered with tarpaulins. Prisoners have only seen the water once, in 2014, when the tarps were removed ahead of a hurricane.
“Anyone who could draw drew the sea,” Adayfi wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. “(T)he inmates put their dreams, their feelings, their hopes and their lives into (the drawings). The sea means freedom that no one can control or possess, freedom for all.”
The exhibit’s paintings, drawings and collages (one inmate used soap as glue) depict a variety of experiences, perspectives and symbols, including iconic American landmarks, a mother’s watery eye and a visual representation of the symptoms endured since a brain injury suffered during an interrogation. Some works of art are signed by the numbers used to identify detainees rather than their names, and some bear stamps that read “Approved by United States Forces”, signifying clearance for release to attorneys before any works prisoners’ art are considered the property of the US government, destined to be confiscated and destroyed.
The curators of the exhibition hope that this exhibition will highlight the injustices perpetrated against men who have never been convicted or even accused of a crime. “Viewers can make up their own minds about whether the art on display in Catamount’s Fried Family Gallery is dangerous enough to be shredded or burned,” Thompson said, “or whether, like its creators, it should be released. .”
Special thanks are due to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve US, Beth Jacob and exhibition director Sam Monaco.
For more information on visiting the exhibition at the Spotlight Gallery, contact Desmond Peeples at [email protected].
Information about the Spotlight Gallery exhibit can be viewed at https://www.vermontartscouncil.org/programs/spotlight-gallery/art-from-guantanamo-bay-selections.
For more information about the exhibit at Catamount Arts, visit catamountarts.org.
About the Vermont Arts Council
The Vermont Arts Council envisions a Vermont where all people have access to the arts and creativity in their lives, education, and communities. Engagement with the arts transforms individuals, connects us more deeply to one another, energizes the economy, and supports the vibrant cultural landscape that makes Vermont a great place to live. Since 1965, the Council has been the primary provider of funding, advocacy, and information for the arts in Vermont. Learn more at www.vermontartscouncil.org
Catherine Crawley, director of communications for the Vermont Arts Council, [email protected]802-828-5422
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