18 December, 2010

Statement from a recent art exhibition open call submission: Aafia Siddiqui Trial Sketches

My statement from a recent art exhibition open call is reprinted below (the bulk of this text, and a link to the relevant images, can be found at my previous blog post):
I recently had the opportunity to assist with the making of a documentary film about the late artist, Mark Lombardi. Best known for his abstract drawings that depicted the scandal-ridden relationships between international figures of power, Lombardi believed that the most compelling art was based on real world events - events that sometimes remained largely unnoticed by the general public.

The more I learned about Lombardi's artistic process of intense research, the more I felt compelled to continue in a similar vein with my own work.  Much too often, today's galleries are filled with works that are heavy in technique and form, but light in substance.  While at the same time, there are complex and sordid stories behind the headlines of news stories that remain unpacked and ignored.  Therefore, my aim is to make better use of creative tools so as to retell and reinterpret meaningful, historical and current events, in hopes that the significance of these events may reach out to a more diverse and unlikely audience.

The content of my submission are sketches I made during the trial of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. On September 23, 2010, Siddiqui received a sentence of 86 years after being found guilty of numerous charges - among them, attempted murder of U.S. soldiers and federal agents.

What makes Siddiqui's case unique are the questions that still remain in light of her trial. Where was she prior to her arrest in Afghanistan in July 2008? Was she, as some have alleged, being held in a secret prison at Bagram as Prisoner #650? After all three of her children disappeared, two have turned up - where were they, and what is the fate of her third and youngest child, Suleman?

The fact that some of these questions may never be answered (without the revelation of classified information) highlights some of the shortcomings of the U.S.-led War on Terror. But more broadly, the limits of law, as an ideal of modern, constitutional liberalism, come to the fore. (Siddiqui was never given Miranda rights, and statements she made while recovering from her gunshot wound were used against her.) And it is precisely this condition of incommensurability with our ideals that I had in mind when producing these courtroom sketches.

Stylistically, these sketches intentionally differ from the rote look of courtroom sketches, traditionally made for evening-news panning. Either finished and flat, or rough, with notes on the side, they retain a resistance to a completely fleshed-out story; they share the incompleteness that is synonymous with the story of Aafia Siddiqui. Drawn from the perspective of an almost/not-quite participant-observer (many of us passed through the same metal detectors day after day, just as many of us had no hand in deciding the fate of the accused), a deference to skepticism is maintained throughout the process, paralleling that which is deserved for Siddiqui's case - as well as any other instance in which a nation so definitively proclaims "Victory" over its enemies.

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