An exhibition giving a voice to those who had none


The silent voices of former and current inmates have found a way to reach the public through art. The DePaul Art Museum has collaborated with contributing curators and The Tea Project, which advises the exhibition’s development and continues to address broad themes of war, torture, and imprisonment. It was curated by Amber Ginsburg and Aaron Hughes, “Remaking the Exceptional: Tea, Torture, and Reparations | Chicago to Guantanamo,” an exhibition marking 20 years since the opening of the US extralegal prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The exhibition occupies all the galleries of the museum and examines the local and international ramifications of state violence. The exhibition is an ongoing series of installations and performances that create opportunities for dialogue with local and global histories of war, torture and confinement.

This series runs from March 10 to August 7, 2022. When visitors enter the gallery, they are instantly taken on a journey through paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations by torture survivors, activists , artists and collectives.

“We have so much to learn from survivors,” Ginsburg said. “That’s why when you walk into the gallery of each room, you’ll find a quote from a survivor from Guantanamo Bay detention camp all the way to Chicago.”

Despite finding themselves in horrific situations, the inmates found a way to be creative, thinking outside the prison walls of the countries they left behind. Styrofoam cups along the museum wall were brought to life by Guantanamo Bay guard Chris Arendt, who fell in love with the designs inmates created by carving into the cups with their fingernails. The Tea Project uses this exhibit to creatively tell the story of all those unlawfully detained.

The Ginsburg and Hughes Teacup Archive houses 779 porcelain molded polystyrene teacups, one for each inmate at Guantanamo Bay since 2001. All cups are beautifully inscribed with a national or native flower from the 48 countries of citizenship represented in the camp of detention. One cup had 220 small flowers engraved on it, representing the number of Afghan men being held at Guantanamo Bay.

“This exhibit is a visual narrative of the last 10 years of sitting down with people and having a cup of tea,” Hughes said. “From tea sipped at a family reunion to a cage in Guantanamo Bay, tea is not just a beloved beverage, but a shared moment that transcends cultural divides and systems of oppression.”

Museum visitors walk through a digital and interactive presentation exploring the direct connection between Guantanamo Bay and the Chicago Police Department. It tells the story of a long history of police abuse under the leadership of police commander and Vietnam War veteran Jon Burge and his officers who coerced and tortured hundreds of mostly black men and women. to false confessions between 1972 and 1991 in their zone 2 and zone. 3 headquarters. In 2015, Chicago became the first municipality in the nation to award scores of Chicago torture survivors reparations for racially motivated police brutality. Laura-Caroline de Lara, director of the DePaul Art Museum, believes this exhibit gives survivors a voice.

“For many Chicago survivors, it’s about wanting their story told, making sure it doesn’t become part of Chicago’s history that just gets swept under the rug,” he said. she declared.

Among the most impactful artifacts available when visiting the exhibit can be found in the center of the hall on the first floor. Ginsburg and Hughes recreated their podcast, also titled “Remaking the Exceptional,” using a gramophone to play sound clips from the testimonies of tortured survivors from Guantanamo Bay and Chicago. Take a moment, close your eyes and listen to the pain and suffering of so many people.

“From then on, after refusing to sign it,” said the voice of a Chicago police torture survivor. “I was slapped, choked, beaten, thrown against the concrete wall, handcuffed and called names I had never been called before.”

The 51st State Exhibition (Free) is a body of work generated in art classes taught at Statesville Prison by Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project (P+NAP), a collective of artists, writers and scholars. Since 2019, the group has engaged in research and discussion, imagining a sovereign nation of incarcerated people.

During the pandemic, the arts created iconic elements of state craftsmanship, including emblems, songs, choreography, graphic narratives, symbols, tools and stage sets. These images and words are a call to community, a call that connects thousands of incarcerated people across the country through a spatio-political imaginary.

The DePaul Art Museum’s new exhibit is a true testament to strength and creativity. These are just some of the amazing works of art on display. Due to the nature of this content, visitors will find a coping skills pamphlet to help them deal with traumatic stress reactions during their visit.

In the end, whatever your position on the issue of local and international struggles for justice and reparations, what matters is that we talk about it. The more we sweep things under the rug, the less we can move forward. To learn more about the museum, other exhibits and events, visit its website.

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