Guantánamo Public Memory Project

Media Release, for Immediate Release


New traveling exhibit developed by over 100 students from 12 universities nationwide highlights long and contested history of Guantánamo

November 30, 2012 (New York City): A new free exhibition reveals the history of a place both infamous and unknown to most Americans: the United States naval station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Opening at NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery on December 13, 2012, and traveling to ten sites across the country through 2014, the first exhibit by the Guantánamo Public Memory Project explores GTMO’s history, from the US occupation of Guantánamo Bay in 1898 to today’s debates about its future.

Created as a unique collaboration among universities (full list below), students, communities, and people with first-hand experience at GTMO, the exhibition features oral histories, images, documentary material, video footage, and artwork never before shared with the public.

At a time when public memory of even GTMO’s current use is fading, this exhibition brings stories from the base’s long and complicated past to light. Visitors will hear from Sergio Lastres, who was one of 30,000 Cuban refugees held at GTMO from 1994 to 1996, and Anita Lewis Isom, who spent her childhood on base in the 1960s (click links for oral history recording). Visitors may listen to these oral histories and view more material by scanning QR codes on the exhibition panels with their smartphones. By sharing such varied experiences, the show’s curators aim to provoke new dialogue on what Guantánamo means – for individuals, communities and the country.

“We want to engage people around the country to dig into this history themselves and grapple with why it matters,” said Project Director Liz Sevcenko. “We invited students from wildly different communities to learn from the many people this place has affected and explore how GTMO has shaped bigger policies – from immigration to public health to national security. The exhibit came together from the startling things these students discovered and the tough questions they debated together. Now we’re inviting the rest of the country to weigh in.”

Visitors to the Kimmel Center may interact with the exhibit, and each other, by texting “Yes” or “No” to a series of questions on display, including “Is the US an Empire?” and “Should GTMO be used for refugees in the future?” A continually updated compilation of all answers will be shown on video monitors. Visitors will be encouraged to share more in-depth responses to these questions and to the exhibition on the Project’s blog or via social media (@GitmoMemory and

The exhibit explores various eras in GTMO’s history, including:

  • how the United States’ lease of the territory from Cuba in 1903 created a “legal black hole,” where no country’s laws clearly applied;
  • life behind the “Cactus Curtain” in the Cold War;
  • the divisive debates over whether the base’s detention of nearly 50,000 Cuban and Haitian migrants in the 1990s was a humanitarian operation or a refugee prison camp;
  • and the base’s key role in the “War on Terror.”

The project’s online component, www.gitmomemory. org, also launches December 13. Visitors can hear the voices of people from diverse periods and perspectives, explore the base through an interactive map, and view rare footage, photographs, and historical documents.

Public programs will also be held in each community hosting the exhibition, focusing on why GTMO matters there and featuring testimony and analysis by local people with experience at GTMO or with its related issues. These programs kick off in New York with a two-day event at Columbia University and New York University titled “Why Remember Guantánamo” (December 13-14, 2012). More information can be found by visiting

“This project isn’t about glorifying anything,” said Nate Weisenberg, a student at Brown University who participated in the exhibition’s curation. “It’s about reflecting that GTMO means different things to different people… Depending on whom you ask, it may be a place of pride or shame, hope or fear, refuge or prison, community or isolation – the best of America, the worst of it, or as GTMO has so often been in its history, some gray area in between.”

Exhibition Details

December 13, 2012 – February 10, 2013

NYU’s Kimmel Center for University Life Windows Gallery

LaGuardia Place and West 3rd Streets, Greenwich Village, New York City

Free and visible from the street 24/7; A/C/E/B/D/F/M at West 4th Street; N/R at 8th Street; 6 at Astor Place

Exhibit Opening Reception: December 13, 6-8pm, NYU King Juan Carlos Center, 53 Washington Square South

Make your voice heard:; Twitter: @GitmoMemory

University Partners, Venues, and Exhibition Dates:

February 18 – March 29, 2013: Rutgers University New Brunswick, Douglass Library

April 8 – May 12, 2013: Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis Cultural Arts Gallery

May 20 – Summer 2013: University of California at Riverside, California Museum of Photography

September 11 – October 9, 2013: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Herter Gallery

October 16 – November 29, 2013: Arizona State University, Tempe

December 6, 2013 – January 2014: University of North Carolina, Greensboro, International Civil Rights Center and Museum

February – March 2014: University of Minnesota, Minnesota History Center

April – May 2014: University of West Florida, Historic Pensacola Village

Fall 2014: Brown University, University of Rhode Island Providence Campus Gallery

About the Guantánamo Public Memory Project

The Guantánamo Public Memory Project seeks to build public awareness of the century-long history of the US naval station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and foster dialogue on the future of this place and the policies it shapes. The Project has developed a traveling exhibit, online story collection, curricula, public dialogues, and more through collaboration and debates with diverse stakeholders. First launched in 2009 by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, the Project is currently coordinated from Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights in collaboration with a growing number of universities, organizations, and individuals according to common principles while engaged in ongoing debateon the possibilities and pitfalls of “remembering” Guantánamo. Design and creative direction for the project was guided by Picture Projects in partnership with Tronvig Group. The project was supported by the participating universities and by the Open Society Foundations, Libra Foundation, and the New York Council on the Humanities.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kate Stober,, (917) 526-0413


Creative: Picture Projects & Tronvig Group