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Pictures From Home. Questions of Justice.
March 31 – June 2, 2007
1113 Vine Street Houston 77002
(HOUSTON, April 27, 2007) Guantánamo. A word and a place that have become a part of our vocabulary, unsettling and unseen, invoking some of the most controversial aspects of the war on terror since 2001.
FotoFest presents for the first time, Guantánamo. Pictures From Home. Questions of Justice., a rare glimpse into the life of the prison, the men who are detainees, their families, and the U.S. attorneys who represent the detainees.
The words of the lawyers who are representing the detainees, their photographs and interviews, and the de-classified proceedings from U.S.military hearings take us from the Middle East and Afghanistan into the cells of Guantánamo.
Guantánamo. Pictures From Home. Questions of Justice. will be on public view at FotoFest from March 31 to May 19, 2007. The opening is Saturday, March 31 with the project director, artists, curator, and participating lawyers.
The exhibition presents 88 previously unseen photographs and short video works gathered by Project Creator and Artist Margot Herster over the past two years. The images and stories portray detainees from Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The photographs are accompanied by narratives from their attorneys. An audio installation, Inside Guantánamo, details events Guantánamo. A video, The Lawyers, by Ms. Herster and Houston-born photographer and video artist Carolyn Mara Borlenghi, presents six Guantánamo attorneys candidly describing their experiences and interactions with detainees.
“Pictures From Home developed through my personal connection with some of the Guantanamo Bay detainee cases. My husband was an attorney with Allen & Overy, a firm representing 11 detainees from Yemen. He is now a professor at the University of Texas Law School, where he represents three Afghani detainees.
“Trips to Cuba to meet his clients drained him. I became concerned about the emotional impact of his involvement, as well as the circumstances experienced by those he was representing, “ Margot Herster says. “I probed him about the case, although confidentiality and national security restrictions limited his response. I wanted to know about the detainees. What do they look like? Who are they?”
The photographs in this exhibition were not intended for the general public; they were a means of communicating with detainee-clients. In working with the detainees, lawyers discovered that visual images were an essential tool in creating dialogue. The lawyers visited detainees’ families abroad and photographed homes, family members, personal belongings, old snapshots, neighborhoods and friends. Showing these images to the detainees became essential to building attorney-client relationships.
“The photographs built trust. They were a link, one of the only links, that detainees had with the outside world. When detainees were able to keep them, the photographs became prized objects, passed from one detainee to another,“ says Margot Herster.
There are 387 detainees in Guantánamo today. Many of them have spent four to five years in confinement without being formally charged. Attorneys began visiting detainee-clients and their families following a Supreme Court decision in June 2004 that allowed prisoners to file cases challenging their detention in U.S. courts. On February 20, 2007, a decision from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed these cases and threatens to eliminate lawyers’ access to their clients.
“One of the greatest concerns the lawyers have now is that the degree of transparency they brought to Guantánamo could be taken away,” says Scott Sullivan, Guantánamo attorney and professor at the University of Texas Law School. Pictures from Home presents what could be these lawyers’ final words and images portraying the detainee population and the realities of imprisonment at Guantánamo.
“We’re a long way away from ever being able to do the detainees any good in front of a judge,” says Allen & Overy attorney Sarah Havens. “Sharing information that we’ve brought back from our trips to Guantánamo with the public has been one of the greatest benefits of legal representation.”
The issue of Guantánamo lawyers facing the challenge of meeting their clients and gaining their trust is not limited to New York and Washington D.C. Seven Texas lawyers have joined over 400 private lawyers and legal scholars nationally in offering pro bono
representation to Guantánamo detainees. To Murray Fogler, a Houston attorney with McDade Fogler, offering such representation, is a question of “meaningful due process.”
In a recent move, a Pentagon spokesman Cully Stimson raised the ante further by publicly attacking by name the firms which are representing detainees at Guantánamo and suggesting their high profile corporate should take a second look at what their legal representatives are doing. The Pentagon spokesman resigned a few weeks later, but his remarks raised the question of whether there would be adverse consequences for U.S. attorneys and law firms doing pro bono representation for suspected terrorists.
Pictures from Home portrays 32 detainees, where they come from, and their experiences in Guantánamo. Detainee testimony in government proceedings creates a first-hand look at Guantánamo. One of the detainees is Fawzi Al Odah, the named plaintiff in the February 2007 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. On April 2, 2007 the Supreme Court refused to review, at this time, the lawyers’ appeal challenging the Circuit Court decision. On April 25, 2007, the Department of Justice filed suit to limit lawyers’ access to detainees at Guantánamo.
“It is rare that you find the opportunity to link the language of visual imagery to vital political and social issues confronting this nation,” says FotoFest curator Wendy Watriss. “In this work, vital legal issues are intertwined with the stories of the detainees and the lawyers’ own experience with the realities of imprisonment in Guantánamo, one of the most controversial U.S. prisons. As a young photographer herself, Margot Herster has done a great service not only to her own profession but to the lawyers working on these issues and U.S. society as a whole. Pictures From Home raises questions that touch the core of the U.S. justice system.”
The exhibit presentation sponsored by FotoFest is accompanied by public forums on the legal and civil liberties issues surrounding Guantánamo and discussions on art and politics.
FotoFest is known for taking on challenging ideas and presenting work that relates to civic and social problems. In 1990, FotoFest presented the inside account of the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and the rise of Vaclav Havel as head of the Czechoslovak government, and in 1992, FotoFest presented documentaries on the social and political movements that accompanied the development of photography in Europe and Latin America from the mid 1800s to the late 1900s. In 1996, FotoFest sponsored an inside look at the history of the Kurdish people in relation to European imperialism and discovery of oil in the Middle East. In 1994 and 2004, FotoFest focused on the Global Environment and Water. In 2002, FotoFest presented Here is New York 9/11 and work on Afghanistan. In 2005, FotoFest sponsored NAZAR, Photographs from the Arab World, and in 2006, Artists Responding to Violence and the Earth.
For further information, please call Vinod Hopson, 713. 223.5522 ext 19 at FotoFest or 713.459-7294 (cell phone) or email email@example.com.