Bearing Witness: Daniel Heyman
January 23 - February 29, 2012
Daniel Heyman, Do You Remember This Night? (detail), 2007,
watercolor and gouache accordion book, 2 x 34'
[I am an artist who by stroke of good fortune met a brave American lawyer, Susan Burke, who represents several hundred Iraqi detainees in the U.S. federal courts. I witnessed the interviews of over 40 former detainees of the Abu Ghraib Prison’s notorious “hard site.” The interviews were held in small conference rooms in Amman and Istanbul – small tourist hotels, mostly – and people present included an Iraqi victim, a translator, the interviewing lawyer, a note taker and me. We all sat around a table, the witness on one side, me on the other. I usually manipulated the seating in order to have a clear view of the former detainee’s face so that the finished portrait, full frontal, looked directly out at the viewer. I copied the words of the testimony verbatim onto the artwork with colored gouaches on paper and scratched the letters backward when I worked in copper so that when the print was made the words would read forward. After hearing the particulars of an arrest, I heard the particulars of each interrogation – things so awful it is hard to write them here.
There are a multitude of ways by which society can deny atrocities: through fear, disavowal, turning a blind eye, self-deception, guilt, fatigue, information overload, or the selective filtering of mainstream media. Artists and writers, on the other hand, are among those who expose abhorrent acts of violence. In this context, visual works of art, poetry, and other forms of creative expression ask us to acknowledge and take responsibility for the pain and suffering of others. The testimonies shared by those detained at Abu Ghraib are beyond horrifying. In response, Daniel Heyman has produced a body of work that is of extreme importance.
Daniel Heyman, When Photographers Are Blinded,
Eagles' Wings Are Clipped, etching on plywood, 11 x 12',
detail shown (House of Cards under Attack), 2010
Los Angeles Times journalist Christopher Knight writes of Heyman's work, "Portraiture has always meant to cobble together the mysterious elements of individual human identity into a momentary whole. Torture, by contrast, means to rip humanity asunder."
In 2011, the gallery purchased a copy of Heyman's Istanbul Portfolio of the Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project for the university's permanent collection. Comprised of 10 drypoint etchings, the portfolio is one in an edition of 12 with others in collections at the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.
Special thanks to the department of art and art history for its support of the artist's lecture and campus visit.
- Catherine Tedford, Gallery Director