February 2008 Issue
Daniel Heyman at the Print Center
"The Abu Ghraib Project," an exhibition by Daniel Heyman at the Printer Center, brought the stories of 17 victims of torture to light. Previously, Heyman has portrayed hooded, caped prisoners from the notorious Iraq jail - arms suspended by wires, feet teetering on inflated balls. However, in his recent work, the Philadelphia-based artist transforms shadowy strangers into real-life individuals. You can see their features, know their faces and read their stories.
Heyman was invited to accompany the special prosecutor for a legal team to Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. The lawyers were initiating a class-action suit on behalf of a group of Abu Ghraib victims who had been released without charges. Heyman listened, through an interpreter, while the people gave their testimonies. Hew drew their portraits first on paper and then on copper plates with a stylus, inscribing parts of their stories directly on the plates in reverse lettering. The words weave around the faces as if the individuals are bursting through the text and confronting us directly. When Heyman ran out of copper plates, he made watercolor portraits on paper, hand lettering the testimonies like graffiti on a prison wall.
this exhibition included six black-pon-white drypoint prints from the "Amman" series and seven drypoint-with-chine-colle works on terra-cotta-toned paper from the "Istanbul" series (as well as some woodcuts). In addition, stenciled text covered the gallery floor in the manner of a prayer rug. The words recounted the testimonies of two women talking about the same event - one the victim, the other a witness. The space seemed to reverberate with a cacophony of voices that would not be silenced.
The men and one woman are dressed in street clothes. Some have scars or are missing limbs. Their eyes seem focused on their inner horror, mouths captured in grim expressions as they relate their experiences. The works' titles are the first line of each person's testimony: When I Saw My Son, Our Eyes Were Covered, He Could Feel the Dog's Breath, and Jasmin Was In a Cage. Each portrait demands individual attention. Together they bear witness to events that we might acknowledge but cannot comprehend. Like Picassao's Guernica and Goya's "Disasters of War," they are skillful works of art that provide haunting images of man's inhumanity to man.
- Anne R. Fabbri