An exhibit at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City featuring various artworks by current and former Guantanamo Bay detainees has reportedly forced the Department of Defense to review its policies.
The art on display at “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay” in John Jay College’s President’s Gallery features more than 30 paintings and sculptures by Guantanamo prisoners — four of which are still detained, a local Fox affiliate reported. The exhibit opened Oct. 2 and runs through Jan. 26.
The art, which reportedly can’t show violent images, was obtained through the detainees’ lawyers, the New York Post reported. The exhibit website includes an e-mail address for people interested in buying works from the artists who have already been “cleared by military tribunals and released.”
“They created this art under strict regulations,” the exhibit’s co-curator, John Jay art crime professor Erin Thompson, told the Post. “They cannot produce violent images or anything that might contain a hidden message. Every blank sheet of paper … had to be inspected and cleared for use.”
The Post reported that the exhibition catalog, which was written by the three curators, provides brief descriptions of the artworks but omits the artists’ alleged crimes.
Ms. Thompson said prices for the works “were in the hundreds of dollars,” but she did not know if any had been sold. She said potential buyers are referred to the detainees’ lawyers.
The exhibit reportedly prompted the Department of Defense to suspend the process that allows Guantanamo detainees to have their art reviewed by prison authorities and released to their lawyers.
A spokesman for the department told The Miami Herald earlier this month that all Guantanamo detainee art is “property of the U.S. government” and “questions remain on where the money for the sales was going.”
“The appropriate disposition of this property has been clarified with our staff at the detention facility and will be accounted for according to applicable local procedures in the future,” Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson said Nov. 15.
At the prison, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos told The Herald in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review.”
Neither the prison nor the Department of Defense returned The Post’s requests for comment.
Meanwhile, more than 880 people have signed an online petition created by Ms. Thompson, protesting the department’s reported decision to prohibit any more art from leaving Guantanamo. The petition and a New York Times op-ed penned by Ms. Thompson claimed that the artwork that remains at the prison is slated for incineration.
“Attorneys for several prisoners were told the military intends to burn the art,” Ms. Thompson wrote Monday.
“Guantánamo detainees deserve basic human rights as they await trial,” she wrote. “Taking away ownership of their art is both incredibly petty and utterly cruel. Making art is a profoundly human urge. Viewing this art has allowed thousands of visitors at John Jay College and elsewhere a chance to see that its makers are human beings. These detainees have been treated in fundamentally dehumanizing ways, from torture to denial of fair trials, and their art reminds us that we cannot ignore their condition.”