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Still Life With Torture

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Daniel Heyman's transcripts/portraits of detainee abuse in the Samuel Dorsky Museum on SUNY New Paltz campus.
  • Daniel Heyman's transcripts/portraits of detainee abuse in the Samuel Dorsky Museum on SUNY New Paltz campus.

Daniel Heyman made his first trip to the Mid East to interview former Abu Ghraib detainees in March 2006. In Istanbul, and on later trips to Amman, Jordan, over the past two years, Heyman sat in on interviews conducted by a legal team headed by human rights lawyer Susan Burke. Burke and her lawyers are bringing a civil lawsuit on behalf of 267 detainees against defense contractors CACI and Titan, who worked with the US Army at Abu Ghraib.

While seated in a room with the attorneys listening to the victims of human-rights abuses recount their experiences, Heyman would sketch or paint both a portrait of the speaker as well as part of his or her testimony, creating works of spare, visceral immediacy. “When I was in the interviews, I was painting as fast as I could,” Heyman says. “My goal is to bring back their words and let them speak for themselves. There’s no editing.” Heyman has interviewed 25 former detainees to date and plans to return to Istanbul in April for more interviews to continue creating this body of work, which currently resides in 14 different public collections, including that of the Library of Congress and Vassar College. “I want to use the work to bring to the American public a side of the war that is not widely seen—what it’s like to be a victim.”

Heyman will show 18 of his transcript/portraits as part of the exhibition “Intimacies of Distant War,” which opens this month at the Samuel Dorsky Museum. “Intimacies,” curated by Brian Wallace, examines artistic reactions to far-flung conflict through present and past work by Lida Abdul (video/audio installation), Leon Golub (painting), Mark Hogancamp (photographs), An-My Le (film installation), Steve Mumford (watercolor sketches), Yoko Ono (wearable sculpture), and Carolee Schneemann (film).

“Intimacies of Distant War” will be exhibited at the Dorsky Museum from February 8 through April 13. An opening reception will be held on February 8 from 6 to 8pm. Heyman and Burke will give a talk about their experiences working with detainees on March 3 at 7pm in Lecture Center 108 on the SUNY New Paltz campus. (845) 257-3844; www.newpaltz.edu/museum.

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