Prior to this course, I had little knowledge of the history of the naval base located at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO). Like many Americans, it was difficult for me to comprehend what was going on there because we are so detached from the site and comfortable in our lives, a distance compounded by the amount of censorship and secrecy surrounding the site. In fact, there is so much censorship involving GTMO that I was actually surprised to learn of our longstanding involvement with the base. After delving into the material and hearing stories about the site, what struck me most was Guantánamo’s diverse history and how it offers many diverse perspectives.
What I found most interesting about GTMO was that a wide range of people, under a number of circumstances, inhabited this land since the U.S. leased it from Cuba. While we mostly hear about the people detained here, the most shocking discovery I had was when I found out that to some of its residents, Guantánamo was paradise. How can these two opposing viewpoints coexist in a place people were forced to call home? The duality is surreal; on one side of the fence are U.S. military families going about their daily lives in a tropical paradise, while on the other side of the fence are some of the most painful and tormented stories you will ever hear.
Throughout history, many of the detainees used art as a way to express themselves and reflect on their current situation. Being an artist myself, this deeply resonated with me, but I have never created art under these circumstances. Images of barbed wire and American flags are most iconic, but what continues to fascinate me are the images depicting a beautiful and exotic landscape. A backdrop of a tropical paradise, painted in a bright and colorful palette, seems incongruous to me. Perhaps the imagery reflects the artist’s memory of another place, but it also evokes a simple and beautiful side of Guantánamo that is usually forgotten. I never considered how complex this site truly is, and it disturbs me when I think about how America tainted such a beautiful land and managed to turn it into something so ugly––a symbol for indefinite detention.
The idea of Guantánamo as paradise also raises a new perspective concerning the future of the base. If we succeeded in closing GTMO, will there ever be a way to remember and honor the history of the site, yet still move on and utilize the beautiful land of Guantánamo in a positive way? Working on the Guantánamo Public Memory Project has helped me discover the importance of raising awareness around the human rights issues surrounding GTMO. I hope to initiate a similar level of consciousness and promote dialogue within our own communities, while addressing contemporary issues related to GTMO, such as racial profiling and hate crimes affecting communities of color. I think it could offer a new perspective about the site and be an active way to break ignorant or ambiguous feelings towards the censored representation of GTMO that misinforms us. The complex nature of Guantánamo needs to be addressed in order to not only build public memory, but also motivate changes in our current standard of civil liberties.
Posted by Kavita Singh, student at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis is participating in the Guantánamo Public Memory Project‘s National Dialogue and Traveling Exhibit. Opening at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery in December 2012 and traveling to 9 sites (and counting) across the country through at least 2014, the exhibit will explore GTMO’s history from US occupation in 1898 to today’s debates and visions for its future. The exhibit is being developed through a unique collaboration among a growing number of universities as a dialogue among their students, communities, and people with first-hand experience at GTMO.