for immediate release
September 8, 2007
"Part of your job as an artist is to be a witness for your times. I feel a huge responsibility to get the story out." - Daniel Heyman, artist
Philadelphia: Many artists have addressed the issue of the war and continuing presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and the human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib. Philadelphia artist Daniel Heyman had the unique opportunity to witness interviews with former detainees of Abu Ghraib when he traveled to Amman, Jordan this year as part of a team pursuing a class action suit on behalf of these prisoners. Clean Up America, an installation in The Archive Space at Crane Arts is part of the body of work that is the artist’s response to the issue and experience. The gallery will also be open concurrent with Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe performances in the building. Call 215-913-9663 for more info. This exhibition is supported in part with a grant from the Independence Foundation.
Heyman traveled to Amman at the invitation of Philadelphia law firm Burke Pyle LLC to participate in interviews that the firm, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Detroit law firm Akeel and Valentine PLC, were conducting as they gathered evidence for a class action lawsuit on behalf of former detainees at Abu Ghraib. All of the Iraqi clients were tortured by their American captors and/or the translators working with the Americans, and none of the clients were ever formally accused of any crime. They have all been released. Heyman was invited to witness the interviews in a visual medium. He created portraits of the Iraqis, and in cases when the clients feared to be identified, their interviewers. Working quickly by hand in the drypoint technique on copper plates used in printmaking, Heyman not only made portraits but transcribed parts of the translated testimonies by writing backwards on the plate. When he ran out of copper plates, Heyman switched to watercolor as his medium for the portraits.
Clean Up America will include multiple figures cast in soap, based on the now-familiar image from Abu Ghraib: a hooded man with outstretched hands with dangling electrical wires. The figures will be attached to a wall with long bolts. Two large-scale wall drawings – portraits of a man who was interviewed by the legal team in Amman and who has since been assassinated – are also a part of the piece and based on prints prepared by Heyman during the interviews. In his online journal, Heyman writes, “I think that this work concerns a wider public then just myself and those few people I know interested in my work. I feel a responsibility to the people that gave me their testimony under pretty frightening conditions (many received death threats just for talking with Americans, and as I mentioned before one has been killed by an unidentified gunman) to get their first person stories out to as wide a public as possible.” More journal entries on the experience may be found at www.danielheyman.com/news.htm.
In addition to Clean Up America, Heyman is publishing, in an edition of thirty, the portraits and English translations of testimony prepared during his trip to Amman, as well as an edition of twelve that will include both the portraits and English and Arabic translations of the interviews. An artists’ book of woodblock prints based on the watercolor portraits is in progress. The AMJ Foundation and 5-County Arts Fund provided funding for these editions. Additional projects are in the works.
To read a diary of Daniel's seven-day journey to Amman, Jordan that launched this project, click here to begin reading.