A year after the Defense Department banned releases of art made by the 40 prisoners still at Guantánamo, detainee artwork that got out before the ban is emerging as a collectible with a bit of cachet.
“The ban, which was meant to bury this art, ironically enough brought it to the attention of millions of Americans,” says Erin Thompson, the professor who set up the show with lawyers for Guantánamo detainees. Her specialty is art theft and destruction.
“We’re fascinated by their art because these are people who are locked up,” he said. “The art provides them an opportunity to escape. It re-humanizes the dehumanized. It creates a bridge between the inside and outside culture.”
For the very same reasons, he said, some people are repulsed by prison art. Or fear it.
Some people feel, “How dare we think of them as real people,’” he said. “Because it’s so much easier to control them when we think of them as monsters.”