- Seeing Guantánamo, Blown Up: Banksy’s Installation in Disneyland
In September 2006 the British street artist–cum–political commentator Banksy, with the assistance of his friend Thierry Guetta, snuck a backpack stuffed with a deflated blow-up doll into Disneyland. The flaccid, rolled-up plastic was dressed in bright orange coveralls, black gloves, a black mask, and handcuffs. Once in the amusement park, Banksy sat on a walkway bench, pulled out the doll, and inflated it beside the Rocky Mountain Railroad ride. Blown up, the doll reproduced the hallmark image of a Guantánamo Bay detainee, dressed in sensory deprivation gear. It was then installed by the stealthy artist on the interior of Rocky Mountain Railroad’s fence, so that when parkgoers rode around the mini roller-coaster bend, they witnessed a scene that conjured the prevailing image of the Guantánamo Bay detention center (GTMO) circulating in the media at that time: detainees in orange jumpsuits, kneeling in sensory deprivation gear, surrounded by the concertina-wire outdoor enclosure at Camp X-ray. (See fig. 1.) Although the installation lasted only ninety minutes, the event was captured on video, posted on YouTube, and covered modestly by mainstream news outlets like the BBC and the Daily Mail.1 More recently, the art piece reentered public discourse after footage from the event was featured in Banksy’s 2011 Oscar-nominated documentary Exit through the Gift Shop.
The surreptitious Guantánamo installation at Disneyland occurred in a context in which the abilities to be seen, to visualize, and to represent have been sites of contestation and domination for the war on terror. Within this wartime moment, technologies of seeing and architectures of visibility have become increasingly important in specific ways. As the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) show, for instance, remote aerial surveillance has enabled the United States to launch strikes on targets (in Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular) with little risk to US soldiers, but that often indiscriminately kill civilians. That is, what truly makes warfare “asymmetric”—aside from the sheer amount of soldiers, weaponry, and tactics of engagement—is the ways in which different sides see each other, what technologies each has available to view the other, and the ways each side can make themselves unseen. The [End Page 185] legibility that symmetric war provides, between two nation-state formations, is about the way antagonists appear visible to each other as they engage each other within the theater of war. Thus the United States justifies its use of drones, military imprisonment, and other practices in the war on terror that have caused innocents to suffer by claiming that the inability to properly see or comprehend the “enemy” requires these imprecise modes of violence.
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Banksy’s piece emerges from the visual and representational violences that occur at the intersection of these visual wartime practices and American carceral logic. Military detention in the war on terror has been characterized by extreme regulations on sight. Military prisons are out of view, off-limits, and largely inaccessible to journalists or others who do not have security clearance. Many studies of representation in the war on terror concentrate on Islamophobia in the media, depictions of war, and/or journalistic portraits of Muslim women used to garner support for war efforts.2 However, the media depictions of post-9/11 military detention (or lack thereof) compel a unique focus, as the regimes of visuality structure and confine detainees’ everyday lives in acute ways. Although people interned in military prisons like Guantánamo Bay are often discussed abstractly within the media as detainees, the American public [End Page 186] rarely is given images or stories that illuminate their personhood. Instead, the term detainee immediately conjures the image of kneeling prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, barely recognizable as human. For subjects who are often invisible in the public eye as people, these limited and strategic ways in which they appear within public discourse shed light on how the visual is a field on which the war...