Detainees at the United States military prison camp known as Guantánamo Bay have made art from the time they arrived. The Art from Guantánamo Bay exhibition features 101 of these evocative works, made by men held without trial, some for more than 15 years. The six artists include both current (Moath Al Alwi and Ahmed Rabbani) and former (Muhammad Ansi, Abdualmalik (Alrahabi) Abud, Sabri Al Qurashi, Mansoor Adayfi) detainees, none of whom have been charged with committing a crime.
Most pieces in the exhibition were taken from Guantánamo by the detainees’ attorneys for this showing and following a laborious process of searching, scanning, and analysis for hidden messages by Guantánamo officials. A stamp reading “Approved by US Forces” signals that a work has been cleared, and the stamp’s ink often bleeds through to the image on the other side, creating a ghostly mix of art and authority.
Art from Guantánamo Bay includes drawings and paintings as well as sculptures crafted with the few materials permitted to detainees, including model ships made from shirt scraps, prayer caps, razors, and mops. As former detainee Mansoor Adayfi explains in his New York Times essay “In Our Prison on the Sea,” the sea “means freedom that no one can control or own, freedom for everyone.” Although detainees were held close to the sea, tarps blocked their view until they were removed for four days in 2014 in anticipation of a hurricane; after that, Adayfi recalls, “all of those who could draw made drawings about the sea.”