When first hearing about Guantánamo, I was not very interested in learning about the sire. It was not until I explored the readings, photos, and videos associated with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project that I wanted to understand more about the place the issues it represents. I learned that GTMO is more than a prison. It has been used as an American outpost in Cuba, a site of multiple refugee holding camps, as well as the infamous prison for “enemy combatants”. Even though Gitmo usually has a negative connotation through post 9/11 news, it has also been used as a ‘safe haven’ for refugees, and a place for work many tens of thousands of Cubans and Americans. With this knowledge, I know that the possibilities are endless when it comes to the future of Gitmo. I am excited to create the “Arts of Detention” panel for the exhibition. Looking at the artwork created there has renewed my interest in researching the history and the artists.
During my research, I saw the video of the woman who had lived on the base with her family in the 1950s and 1960s. She described it as a paradise and said that those were the best years of her life. She also said that she would go back in a heartbeat if she could. Until I saw this video, I hadn’t realized that Gitmo had people who wanted to be there. They were the base workers and some refugees who had been rescued from the sea.
While looking at artwork, I tried to find something that would express what these people had felt while at Gitmo. I found a beautiful scene of a beach with bright colors that was created by a Haitian refugee. This scene, I thought, expressed everything I had thought Guantánamo was not. It seemed happy and bright with people working and sailing. This was not what I thought about when I thought of Gitmo. While not trying to interpret or put words into the artist’s mouth, I feel that this picture represents how the artist felt while staying in the camp. Maybe they were thinking of a memory or a place where they hoped to one day go, or maybe they were picturing what it would look like outside the camp. No matter what the artist was feeling or thinking when he or she made this picture, the fact is that is was made while they were detained at Gitmo.
I hope that the Arts of Detention panel can introduce more pictures like this to people who may think that Guantánamo is just a dark and gloomy prison. When they see the art that we have put together, I hope they can at least start to open up to the happier and brighter times there. I know that seeing the artwork that came out of Gitmo changed my opinion of this project. I am very glad that I had the experience to be able to research and present the images that best represent Guantánamo.
Melissa Klemeyer, M.A. candidate IUPUI Museum Studies
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.