First Published: 2004-09-22

Abu Ghraib's photos displayed in US museums

Shocking photos of Iraqi prisoners' abuse by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison become museum pieces in US.


Middle East Online

By Catherine Hours - NEW YORK

Worldwide impact

The shocking photographs of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison have made their way into two US museums, creating controversy over the propriety of exhibiting the damaging pictures.

The International Center of Photography in New York and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, cooperated to present an exhibit dubbed "Inconvenient Evidence: Iraqi Prison Photographs from Abu Ghraib."

"The exhibition will offer a look at the extraordinary impact that amateur digital photographs have had on the public's view of the Iraq War, and the human rights issues that this technology exposed at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere," the Warhol museum says on its website.

The ICP says: "Few photographs in recent years have had the explosive impact of the grainy images of Iraqi detainees being tortured by US troops at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq."

"As photographs of war, they offer a quite different view from the studied heroics of the 20th century war photography," says the New York center, which was founded by photographer Cornell Capa 30 years ago.

"The images began to invade the American consciousness ... and jolted our perception of the Iraqi conflict," Brian Wallis, the exhibit's director, said, adding that the photos were the "strongest" to emerge from the war.

"The emergence of the Abu Ghraib photographs fundamentally calls into question the relationship between photography and war," he said.

The photos emerged in April when they were broadcast on US television and published in US newspapers and magazines, shocking the country and the world.

The exhibit include a photo of an Iraqi prisoner laying on his stomach next to a puddle of blood with a soldiers sitting on top of him and one of the most widely published photos: that of soldier Lynndie England holding an Iraqi prisoner on a leash.

The pictures were not framed and were pinned to a wall because "once you put anything in a museum, people think it's on a pedestal, it's art," Wallis said.

In the northeastern city of Pittsburgh, the Warhol museum placed the photos on top of a Warhol picture showing a clash between police and civil rights protestors during the 1960s.

"Warhol used images from the popular press to incorporate in his art work," said the museum's director, Thomas Sokolowski.

"(Warhol) often said that, as much as you can talk about the greatness of art, whether it was Picasso or someone like that, even Guernica and powerful images done about the horror of the war, nothing could equal in the human eye the kind of images you see in front pages of newspapers," he said.

"It is far more powerful than any art work," he added.

But the exhibit in Pennsylvania, home to some of the US soldiers allegedly involved in prisoner abuse, has drawn sharp criticism from military veterans.

"This is one of the most appalling things I've ever heard of in my life," Joseph Dugan, president of the Soldiers and Sailors National Military Museum and Memorial, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"This is an embarrassment to the city of Pittsburgh," he said. "They are convicting people who are still on trial."

Sokolowski defended the exhibit, saying other veterans such as the group Veterans for Peace have voiced support for the photo display.

"There's been some complaints. Some say it's inappropriate, some say it puts the military in a bad light, some suggest it's politicizing and it puts the current administration in a bad light," he said. "That's not what we are trying to do."

But, Sokolowski added, "this is factual, these are not manufactured photographs, this happened."

"It's inconvenient perhaps for our government, it is certainly inconvenient for those people involved, and it certainly is for some Americans, and ultimately it's inconvenient for all of us because the people who did those acts are human beings."


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