When I think of the word “censor” I think of TV stations beeping out profane language prior to airing an episode, or radio stations substituting “f***ing” for “loving” in major pop songs. So, naturally for artwork, images that should be censored include … the ocean? Yeah, I’m confused too. In case you’re behind the eight-ball on this recent controversial incident, John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York opened an art exhibition displaying the works of Guantánamo Bay detainees. News of this exhibition reached the ears of the Pentagon and officials are acting like these 36 works of art will erupt into a mass support of terrorism and spark some sort of explosion leading to the next world war. How a picture of water will cause such mayhem is beyond my realm of understanding. Art is used as a means of reflection and can oftentimes be therapeutic. It allows people to see what’s behind the mind of other people and if this message does not offend the U.S., then I don’t see the need for the exhibition to be taken down, or criticized.
“Ode to the Sea” was the title of this (apparently) erroneous exhibition, and was comprised of work ranging from paintings and drawings to sculptures. The work was created by eight men detained at Guantánamo Bay, four of which have been released. The Pentagon claims that the art released by the prisoners infringes on the nation’s censorship. According to an article released by the New York Times, the Pentagon has even gone as far as to stop all other artwork from being released from the prison.
“My clients were told that their art would no longer be processed for release,” said Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents three men being held at Guantánamo Bay. “And then one of my clients was told that, even if he were ever to be released, that he would not be able to take his art with him, and that it would be incinerated.”
Now, this is just absurd. Not only can artwork not be released, but now officials are stating they will destroy all artwork already released to the public. The Pentagon’s decision to take these drastic steps dehumanizes the prisoners that have been held captive for years – some without even having a trial yet. Art is not just a hobby, it’s therapeutic. Sometimes art can be used as a means of de-stressing, or self-reflection. It can give people the means to show what they are thinking through self-expression. It can allow these prisoners to remember, record and re-create images that they see in their minds of the ocean, and of freedom. It’s the closest thing they get to the ocean, and now it’s being taken away.
I’m not saying these men are all innocent and deserve to walk freely on American soil; most of them are suspected members of Al Qaeda, and terrorism has become such a prominent concern in today’s society. However, locking these men in cages and not allowing them to act as human beings won’t solve anything. To solve large scale issues such as terrorism, one must first understand the mind of a terrorist. The best way to do so is through observing what they write and what they draw. These pieces of art allow viewers to not only see what is going on inside the heads of terrorists, but it also allows people to see them for who they truly are – human. Just like you and me, these prisoners crave freedom: they love the ocean, they long to see the sky and the sand, they dream, and they dream to once again see all of these luxuries in life that we take for granted.
The paintings on display in the exhibition at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice all show pictures of the ocean, and even the statue of liberty. They display no messages of hate toward America, the government or its people. All work has been looked over for hidden messages, and even X-Rayed and stamped for approval by the U.S. Forces before being released and placed on display. If they have been searched and scrutinized in order to uphold U.S. censorship, then there really is no need to be so concerned about the messages they are sending.
The only messages being portrayed through this work are that terrorists are humans. They dream to see the ocean. The want to feel fresh air and see a sunset. They want to feel water crashing against their feet. They have hopes and fears just like all of us. Art is supposed to act as a means of breaking the wall of communication — it’s supposed to allow viewers inside the minds of artists, to hear their stories and to see them as a person worthy of sharing the beauty of this world. Art is art. It should never be taken away and it definitely should never be destroyed for the sole purpose of “protecting” American people from sympathizing with terrorists.