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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

“Art from Guantánamo Bay” Exhibition Coming to Baron and Ellin Gordon Galleries

By Amber Kennedy

During the spring semester, Old Dominion University's Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries will host a rare presentation of artwork made by detainees at the United States military camp at Guantánamo Bay.

The "Art from Guantánamo Bay" exhibition, which will be on view from Jan. 21 to May 7, features 101 works made by men held without trial, some for more than 15 years. The six artists include 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 a crime.

A free opening reception will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 27.

The exhibition was previously displayed from October 2017 to January 2018 at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. That show contained 36 pieces of art.

Detainees have been making art since they arrived at Guantánamo Bay. 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 U.S. Forces" signals that a work has been cleared, and the stamp's ink often bleeds through to the image on the other side, creating what ODU's Executive Director for the Arts Cullen Strawn calls "a ghostly mix of art and authority."

"This exhibition has been five years in the making," Strawn said, "and we are excited by the opportunity to share it publicly and facilitate rich discussion."

"Art from Guantánamo Bay" includes drawings, paintings and sculptures crafted with the few materials permitted to detainees, including model ships made from shirt scraps, prayer caps, razors and mops. As former detainee Adayfi explained 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 recalled, "all of those who could draw made drawings about the sea." In October, Adayfi shared a reading from his memoir, "Don't Forget Us Here," during ODU's annual Literary Festival.

For this exhibition, visitors will be able to use the MagicBox, which was introduced at the Gordon Galleries in 2021, to look closely at handwritten documents by Yemeni detainees in Arabic and English. MagicBox is an interactive display case with a touchscreen that allows visitors to explore objects through multimedia content.

Additionally, visitors anywhere in the world can view the exhibition virtually with the help of the Galleries' telepresence robot, nicknamed "Gordon." The innovative robot can navigate the gallery, raise and lower height, and zoom in on art. Self-guided visits can be reserved weekly through ODUArtsTix.com.

The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries exhibit works by nationally and internationally recognized self-taught artists, contemporary artists working in all media, and local and regional artists connected with Old Dominion University. Admission is free and open to the public, with parking in the 45th Street garage. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information and program announcements, visit odu.edu/gordongalleries, facebook.com/gordonartgalleries, or call (757) 683-6271. Follow @oduarts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates on public programming.

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