Guantánamo Detainees Ask Biden to Free Their Artwork

In an open letter printed at present, eight former and present detainees of Guantánamo are petitioning President Joe Biden to finish a Trump-era restriction that bars art work from leaving the jail. The whole letter, written by Mansoor Adayfi, Sabri Al-Qurashi, Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Moazzam Begg, Boumedien, Djamel Ameziane, Sami al-Hajj, and Ahmed Errachidi, is appended on the finish of the article.

In 2010, prisoners have been supplied with an artwork class — a hard-won product of negotiations that they’d undertaken with camp directors and a minor concession within the midst of President Obama’s failure to shut the jail for good as promised. Whereas some have been already producing artwork with the rudimentary supplies that they’d entry to, like partitions, meals containers, and bathroom paper, the artwork class supplied them with paper, pens, and paints and allowed them to create artwork out within the open.

“Now not did now we have to cover our writings, work, poems, and songs — which had meant hiding elements of ourselves. Now not have been we punished for portray or singing,” they write of their letter. “We might reveal elements of ourselves that have been lacking.”

Moath al-Alwi, “Large” (2017)

In 2017, an exhibition on the John Jay Faculty of Legal Justice titled Ode to the Sea: Artwork from Guantánamo, curated by Erin Thompson, Paige Laino, and Charles Shields, showcased over 30 work and sculptures made by individuals at present and previously imprisoned at Guantánamo and procured by their attorneys. (An expanded model of the exhibition, curated by Thompson, was most just lately on view on the Catamount Arts Heart.)

Quickly after the present went up, nevertheless, the Pentagon declared that each one artwork made at Guantánamo was authorities property and will now not depart the premises of the jail. Moreover, it might be destroyed on the navy’s discretion.

Of their letter, the detainees — most of whom have been freed, with al-Alwi and Rabbani cleared for launch — are asking Biden to reverse the Pentagon’s censorship and destruction of Guantánamo artwork. “This artwork belongs to the artists,” at present’s letter reads. “Its significance to them can’t be overstated.” 

The letter has garnered signatures from outstanding artists and cultural figures thus far, together with Molly Crabapple, Michael Rakowitz, Erin Thompson, and Lori Waxman, and the authors are asking for supporters to add their signatures in solidarity.

Learn the open letter in full beneath.


Expensive Mr. President,

Please finish the Trump-era coverage of stopping art work from leaving Guantánamo and launch the captive artwork from the jail.

Arriving at Guantánamo was like getting into a state between life and loss of life. We have been fully remoted from the remainder of the world and have become numbers in orange jumpsuits, caged 24/7. We spent years and years in these cages, unable to see life past these partitions. Torture, starvation strikes, and isolation introduced us nearer to loss of life and outlined our imprisonment. The longer we stayed, the extra we misplaced our sanity and ourselves.

In 2010, as a part of a basic enchancment in dwelling situations when Obama failed to meet his promise to shut the navy jail, and as a part of our negotiations with the camp administration, we got entry to an artwork class. 

For the primary time, making artwork was now not banned. 

From the very starting, we made artwork. We had nothing, so we made artwork out of nothing. We drew with tea powder on bathroom paper. We painted our partitions with cleaning soap and carved Styrofoam cups and meals containers. We sang, danced, recited poetry, and composed songs. However due to this alteration in guidelines, we now had actual paper, pens, and paints—colours we hadn’t seen for years. Now not did now we have to cover our writings, work, poems, and songs—which had meant hiding elements of ourselves. Now not have been we punished for portray or singing. We might reveal elements of ourselves that have been lacking.

It’s a must to perceive that what we obtained wasn’t simply paper, pens, and paints. These have been our instruments to hook up with our recollections, to our earlier lives, to nature, to the world, to our households. Artwork was our technique to heal ourselves, to flee the sensation of being imprisoned and free ourselves, only for a short time. We made the ocean, bushes, the attractive blue sky, and ships. We painted our hope, concern, goals, and our freedom. Our artwork helped us survive.

And we shared our art work. Artworks moved from one block to a different in Camp 6, so we might all see one another’s work. We gave artwork to our attorneys and households in addition to to guards and camp workers. Even the camp administration created a gallery to show our artwork to guests, journalists, and delegations. We began to share our art work with the world. Then, in 2017, after an exhibition in New York Metropolis, issues modified.  

We wished everybody to see this artwork, see its magnificence. We wished them to see how we used our art work to struggle injustice. However this message and elevated public consideration on the jail angered the Trump administration, which responded by banning anymore artwork from leaving Guantánamo. 

Please, Mr. President — don’t comply with Trump’s lead. 

This artwork belongs to the artists. Its significance to them can’t be overstated. Moath Al-Alwi, who was cleared for launch in January 2022, instructed his lawyer that he would quite his art work be launched than himself, “as a result of so far as I’m involved, I’m performed, my life and my goals are shattered. But when my art work is launched, it is going to be the only real witness for posterity.” Khaled Qasim, who was cleared for launch in July 2022, requested his brother in a name on August 3, 2022 to unfold a message to the free individuals of the world: “I ask you all to assist me to free my art work from Guantánamo. My artworks are a part of me and my life. If the US authorities doesn’t conform to launch my art work, I’ll refuse to depart Guantánamo with out my art work.”

Artwork from Guantánamo turned a part of our lives and of who we’re. It was born from the ordeal we lived via. Every portray holds moments of our lives, secrets and techniques, tears, ache, and hope. Our artworks are elements of ourselves. We’re nonetheless not free whereas elements of us are nonetheless imprisoned at Guantánamo. 

Mr. President, finish this Trump-era coverage and free the art work from Guantánamo.


Mansoor Adayfi 
Sabri Al-Qurashi
Ghaleb Al-Bihani
Moazzam Begg
Lakhdar Boumedien
Djamel Ameziane
Sami al-Hajj
Ahmed Errachidi

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