Artwork from Guantanamo Bay highlights wrongful imprisonment

 The Kinetic Gallery exhibit “Artwork from Guantanamo Bay Prison” opened on Oct. 10. It displays works by several Guantanamo Bay detention camp prisoners who are not charged with crimes but remain in the prison. (Michaela VanWormer/Staff photographer)

The Kinetic Gallery exhibit “Artwork from Guantanamo Bay Prison” opened on Oct. 10. It displays works by several Guantanamo Bay detention camp prisoners who are not charged with crimes but remain in the prison. (Michaela VanWormer/Staff photographer)

About a month after the thought-provoking “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit was established in the Kinetic Gallery, the room is now home to a new intriguing group of works through “Artwork from Guantanamo Bay Prison.”

The exhibit, which was installed on Oct. 10 and provided by the Center for Constitutional Rights, explores the minds of wrongfully imprisoned detainees in Guantanamo Bay detention camp through their own artwork. The opening of the exhibit was part of Cultural Harmony Week’s theme of “Detained: Let’s Walk It Out, Not Wait It Out.”

The exhibit is set up with eight copies of artworks by different Guantanamo prisoners, all of whom were not charged with actual crimes. Each painting contains a plaque that gives a brief description of the artist’s detainee life and the title of the piece.

Each work represents how the detainees feel in such an isolated and constrictive setting. One untitled painting, for example, depicts a shipwreck in a stormy setting. The artist, Djamel Ameziane, was detained from 2002 until 2013, when he was transferred to Algeria. 

Associate Dean of Students for Multicultural Programs and Services Fatima Rodriguez Johnson and Geneseo Campus Activities Board arts and exhibits coordinator sophomore Sarah Michel were integral in bringing this exhibit to campus.

The exhibit is inspired by a similar one at John Jay College in New York City. The Center for Constitutional Rights facilitated the transfer of the pieces from the attorneys of the inmates to the exhibit itself, according to Rodriguez Johnson.

“Artwork from Guantanamo Bay” was intricately planned so that the feelings of the detainees represented the exhibit as a whole.

“We wanted to be very respectful of making sure their voice was central to this particular exhibit,” Rodriguez Johnson said in a phone interview. “We did not change anything about the description, we utilized every word from how they were described in the narratives about the artists that connect to each piece. Everything has remained as they have wanted it.”

One piece that sticks out for Rodriguez Johnson is the piece entitled “Survival” by Khalid Qasim, a Yemeni citizen and long-term hunger strike participant who is still at Guantanamo Bay. The painting depicts a barren tree in darkness. Rodriguez Johnson thinks it reflects the exact struggles an inmate experiences daily: lack of sunlight, nurture, care and socialization.

For Michel, this exhibit brought so many educational values and social issues to light that are relevant to her as a student interested in prison reform in New York State.

“I hope to bring attention to this issue because it is a problem. [This brings the attention] to people that someone sitting in prison does not really solve anything,” Michel said. “Every time I come in here I learn a little more.”

The exhibit represents the physical detainment angle for the Cultural Harmony week theme.

“We really felt bringing this particular exhibit, utilizing the experiences of those who have been detained and the art platform to really share it with our campus community was very much aligned with our overall learning outcomes for the week,” Rodriguez Johnson said.

Another highlight of the week is “A Walk In Solidarity for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Detainees” on Friday Oct. 19. This walk, which starts at the Village Park, will help reclaim the landscape by bringing awareness to all forms of detainment.

“We wanted to be able to educate our campus about indefinite detention, centralize experiences of individuals who have been detained in some kind of way and have the students and the campus community think about advocacy,” Rodriguez Johnson said.