‘Let the atrocious images haunt us.’
Susan Sontag.

‘And when such images appear, is it more grotesque to look – or to look away?’
Judith Butler

In 2004 a series of amateur photographs shocked the world.

They were taken by American soldiers in Abu Graib prison in Iraq to record the ‘softening up’ of detainees before interrogation. Images of humiliation, abuse and torture were interspersed with snapshots of the local bazaar and friends enjoying meals together. These photographs have been the subject of close scrutiny and much scholarship. Variously viewed as evidence of torture, trophies, ISIS propaganda, souvenirs, Art and pornography. They are themselves war crimes.

Racism, homophobia, hyper-masculinity and misogyny are all at work here in images which join a long history of performed, spectacular and aesthetic violence designed to dehumanise and ‘other’ the victim.

Their publication finally gave the lie to the long held idea of America as the ‘good guys’ in a war against Terror. Less than two decades later, however, president Trump withdrew the US from the United Nations Human Rights Council, claiming ’Torture works’. Contempt for the Geneva convention and the denigation of human rights concerns is increasingly overt on both sides of the Atlantic. The demagoguery, entitlement and abuse of power so pervasive today first found pure expression in these iconic images. There is a direct line from them to the murder of George Floyd.

We want to make an original cross art form dance performance exploring the power relations and sexual energies at play in this secret theatre. The piece will also dissect the relationship between performance and photography and feature another, later set of photographs. Chris Bartlett wanted to use his camera to restore the humanity and dignity of the Abu Ghraib detainees:

“I wanted to take the camera – an instrument of their torture – and redeem it.”

The result is a series of compelling, empathetic contemporary portraits in which the men depicted in the infamous photographs meet our gaze with self-possession and grace.