Mohammed’s Stillborn Dreams.
A public painter’s journal.
The Source of the Image:
A photo of a baby born dead from a gunshot wound was published earlier this year in a Gorillas Guides blog. The author’s point was how culpable Americans are for blood shed in Iraq.
Material which is graphically bloody and representing crimes against civilians cannot go unnoticed. As one who has few defenses to use against the cruelty and immorality of war, I had to find a way to respond to this crime.
I grabbed the photo of the killed baby and posted it to my screen. It turns out that the baby was killed in Lebanon, the baby was shot in-utero by Israelis.
Censorship and war:
Merely because I had no defenses against a horrible act did not mean that I fully understood the implications of the photograph. Initially, I understood this photo to be an act of overcoming censorship. We don’t have to face crimes if we do not hear about them or see them. I realized that once again when I read this quote by Don North:
The Vietnam lesson for the military, that images and the written word can inform with devastating effect and lead to demands for accountability, has not been forgotten.
——-from The World’s Crisis in War Reporting, 11.18.10.
[Later when I saw the photo, I saw death. I saw why they hate us. I saw how we stole their future, not just their present lives.]
Censorship prevents a deep understanding of war and permits generals and leaders to prosecute wars without dissent from those at home. By constricting information to just numbers of our troops killed, and by not permitting us to see war for what it is, censorship creates the impression that there are no wars going on. We can repair that equation so that it has two sides instead of one side and another side with a question mark. We can extrapolate from a few historical known and accepted ‘facts’. From Wikileaks’ documents we know that for every troop killed there were 10 civilians recorded as died. We can extrapolate to Afghanistan where in the recent Surge there, 20 troops have died each week and multiply that to 200 civilians lost per week. We know from recent history that the Iraqi surge terrified Iraqis into submission and we can extrapolate to Afghanistan, that the same terrorizing of the civilian population is going on. These terrorized civilian populations are demanding accountability from Karzai and other warlords. It is the Americans who are kept in the dark, and who would demand accountability if they had to face what the Afghans and Iraqis are living with.
Fragments of the truth can stand for the whole:
My role as bad news bringer evolves as does the artwork. It is possible to articulate what little imagery as filters out after the censorship and to develop an antiwar message, a peace message. Fragments of the truth, like cuttings from a lilac tree, can be reassembled, rotated in space, repeatedly planted on the page, further refined to send our message that life is sacred, that peace is sacred, that war profanes all that is good in our lives. In a time of spiritual darkness, fragments of the truth about war can stand for the whole truth which is obscured from our view through censorship.
Defining the Image:
I began with a decision to remove all of the blood from the image I wanted to create for the viewer. I will explain why later. I defined the dead baby in pencil and drew a set of hands holding it from the left.
I deliberately avoided using color because too much color leads to too much emotion and then people turn away and miss the opportunity to see meaning in the picture.
I drew the other set of helping hands on the right side and made a decision not to darken the baby’s hair, to keep the eye trained on his wound in his back.
Then I tried to give his torso more definition. By working the larger spaces.
I added some carefully applied color to his wounds and to the gurney, a dark blue and a violet. In addition to feelings of self-loathing for trying to convey this experience of universal grief and shock and loss, I also felt intense doubt that these things can be rendered in art. At moments I woke up from my day-dream tasting/smelling a half century of Palestinian blood mixed simultaneously with the ashes of thousands who were massacred in 9.11. Widows and widow makers confused together and victims and killers fused in a painful tension.
When there is not enough color, all appears flat and like B + W photographs from when I was a kid in the 1950s. But keeping the color regulated is necessary to suspend the normal impulse to turn away. To keep a memory of this baby who memorializes all whose lives were lost, we must be able to look and to not turn away. Too much blood and people shut down.
To not see the dead baby is to point us toward denial instead of gently guiding us to be present and to grieve.