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Amnesty International: Spring 2008

Shelly R. Langdale Views the Prints of Daniel Heyman
The Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project

The words "Abu Ghraib" instantly call to mind the shocking photographs capturing the scandalous treatment of detainees at the U.S. military prison in Iraq in 2003. Struck by the blatant violation of human rights portrayed in these images, printmaker Daniel Heyman was among a number of artists who felt the need to respond through their work.

In 2006 and 2007, Heyman had the remarkable opportunity to travel to Jordan and Turkey to witness the interviews of former prisoners that were conducted in preparation for a class-action lawsuit filed on their behalf. As he listened, Heyman captured their likenesses and recorded their testimonies in drypoint and watercolor. The handwritten texts in capital letters underscore the intimacy and urgency of the personal narratives, while the portraits humanize men and women who were previously known only as anonymous naked or shrouded figures.

Heyman's quest to document the victims of war and help tell their stories through the democratic medium of printmaking follows a distinguished history. The most famous example is perhaps Francisco Goya's Disasters of War print series made between the years 1810 and 1823, some of the first truly realistic depictions of the atrocities of war. In the Abu Ghraib Detainee series, Heyman reclaims former prisoners' humanity by showing them seated in suits and ties, shirtsleeves or a patterned shawl, as he encountered them when they related their testimony and spoke of their homes, families, and friends.

On exhibition at the DuPaul University Museum (Chicago) through May 4, at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art (Grand Forks) through March 30.

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Shelly R. Langdale is associate curator of prints and drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.