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“I think about how to get out of this prison. Despite being in prison, I try as much as I can to get my soul out of prison. I live a different life when I am making art.” Moath Al-Alwi, a detainee at the Guantánamo Bay naval detention center in Cuba, expresses the importance of art as a means of escape from his current conditions of imprisonment in a letter to his lawyer. Now approximately 40 years old, having spent half of his life at Guantánamo without ever being charged with a crime, Moath turns to his imagination for release. In an effort to combat terrorism and house suspected terrorists following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States opened the detention facilities in Guantánamo (GTMO) in 2002. Research and legal cases on behalf of detainees have emphasized the injustice of indefinite detention and the extreme violations of human rights that take place in GTMO. The detainees are not protected by the Geneva Convention or recognized as prisoners of war. While torture is considered to be a heinous crime against humanity, the US argues that their torturous practices are not actually torture through the use of euphemisms. Detainees are essentially only entitled to Habeas Corpus rights, which allows them to question why they are being held. To escape their circumstances, many channel their emotions into art. GTMO implemented an art program in 2010 that allowed detainees to participate in classes on a biweekly basis. While in class, detainees remain shackled to the floor and have only basic supplies, and their art is subject to destruction at any time. In this project, I analyze how detainees use the artistic process in extremely difficult circumstances to create alternatives for themselves that do not exist in their legal and physical contexts. Building off the work of research on the restrictions that the U.S. imposes on artwork in Guantánamo, I investigate the extent to which detainees can truly escape torture through art because they lack freedom of expression within GTMO.



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Art as an Escape from Torture