Ode to the Sea (art exhibition)
Artist: Guantánamo Bay detainees
Date of Action: November 2017-January 2018
Region: North America
Location: New York City
Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Mixed Media, Painting, Sculpture
Description of Artwork: Detainees at the United States military prison camp known as Guantánamo Bay have made art from the time they arrived. The exhibition displays some of these evocative works, made by eight men: four who have since been cleared and released from Guantánamo, and four who remain there. They paint the sea again and again although they cannot reach it.
Dates of exhibition: October 16, 2017-January 26, 2018, President's Gallery, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, NY
Curators: Erin Thompson, Paige Laino, and Charles Shields Exhibition website: https://www.artfromguantanamo.com/
The Incident: "Ode to the Sea," an art exhibition at John Jay College in New York provoked an abrupt change to government policy regarding art created by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon and Department of Defense declared that all art created by detainees will henceforth become the property of the US government and may no longer be removed from the prison, even upon a detainee’s clearance and release. It was suggested that the art will be destroyed.
Results of Incident: NCAC along with over a dozen civil liberties and free speech groups vehemently objected to the violation of the public’s right to access this work and thus fully participate in the political conversation around Guantanamo. The new directive also violates the human rights of the detainees under international norms and further destruction of the work would impermissibly suppress documents of historical importance.
In late January, 2018, lawyers representing six Guantanamo detainees wrote to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Rear Admiral Edward Cashman, the base commander, urging them to reverse their new policy: “A decision to forbid any detainee art from being transferred out of Guantanamo would not reflect well on the Defense Department’s operations there….In fact, news of the policy review has already added fuel to criticisms regarding the lack of transparency of operations and lack of access to the detainees. Instead, the Defense Department should continue to embrace its art program at Guantanamo and the resulting detainee artwork shared outside the prison, and avoid any appearance of stifling it.”
Read the official letter sent by NCAC and 10+ co-signatories to President Donald Trump; Secretary of Defense James Mattis; Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan; US Navy Commander, Rear Admiral Edward Cashman; and US Marine Corps Sergeant Major Dennis Bradley: https://ncac.org/blog/guantanamo-art-gone-for-good
As of February 2023, the policy preventing detainees' artwork from leaving the prison has been lifted. Detainees are now permitted to take with them a "practical quantity of their art" when leaving the facility. That being said, the particularities of what constitute a "practical quantity" have not been explained, and the artwork is still considered the US government's property. It is speculated that the lifting of the ban was related to the recommendation for 20 of the 34 detainees in Guantánamo to be transferred depending on security conditions.
NCAC Condemns Government Policy Depriving Americans of Access to Art by Guantanamo Detainees, NCAC.org, NOVEMBER 28, 2017
Guantanamo Art: Gone for Good? NCAC.org, JANUARY 18, 2018
..... ODE TO THE SEA OPEN THROUGH JANUARY 26, 2018 PRESIDENT’S GALLERY, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, NEW YORK https://www.artfromguantanamo.com
Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay President’s Gallery On view October 2, 2017 -January 26, 2018 Symposium & Opening Reception Monday, October 16, 2017 http://shivagallery.org/portfolio/ode-to-the-sea-art-from-guantanamo-bay/
Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay https://ccrjustice.org/home/get-involved/events/ode-sea-art-guant-namo-bay .....
A Guantánamo Prisoner Will Not Be Allowed to Show His Art, Military Judges Rule The controversy surrounding artwork produced by prisoners at Guantánamo Bay continues. Sarah Cascone, May 15, 2018 https://news.artnet.com/art-world/guantanamo-prisoner-art-1286030?
A Guantánamo Detainee Is Fighting the US Government for the Right to Display His Art Ammar al-Baluchi has been a prisoner of the US since 2003. Sarah Cascone, April 6, 2018 https://news.artnet.com/art-world/guantanamo-detainee-art-1260170?
We asked for Gitmo prison’s book policy in 2013. It arrived this week, censored. BY CAROL ROSENBERG [email protected] March 28, 2018 04:53 PM http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article207192334.html
Detainee art? What detainee art? Popular stop vanishes from prison media visit BY CAROL ROSENBERG [email protected] February 10, 2018 08:30 AM Updated February 13, 2018 06:02 PM http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article199444279.html
Jan 24 2018 Guantanamo Bay prisoners' lawyers urge Defence Secretary to end 'censorship' of inmate's artwork Lawyers say art programme widely recognised to benefit inmates and guards alike http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/guantanamo-bay-prisoner-art-defence-secretary-artwork-censorship-end-james-mattis-a8176651.html