Saturday, March 31, 2018

War crimes

How can you walk by a grid of bones on a table and not read the story?

Last month we took a trip out of the Hudson Valley to MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Set on 16 acres of an urban section of North Adams, Massachusetts, the site’s 26 buildings are connected by elevated walkways and courtyards. The Hoosick River flows through the site which has an unmistakably industrial vibe. Since before the Revolutionary War, the area was instrumental in the manufacture of shoes, hats, cabinets, and armor plates for a Civil War ship and components for the atomic bomb in World War II. Manufacturing ended in 1986 and the site was transformed into a museum after staff of Williams College museum of Art sought an economic space to exhibit large works that would not fit in conventional museums. MASS MoCA opened in 1999.

Artist Jenny Holzer’s giant light projections, carved stone benches, and posters make up her campus-wide exhibit of words and messages. In the East Gallery Lustmord Table features arranged bones on a wooden table, a project rooted in the war in former Yugoslavia. Attached to some bones are metal bands engraved with words from sex crimes perpetrated against Muslim women and girls. In the 1990s, 20,000 to 50,000 women endured rape and forced pregnancy, events the Golden Gate University Law Review called “one of the most egregious orchestrated human rights violations against women in this century.” Lustmord is German for “sexually motivated murder.” The bones were sourced from decommissioned medical samples and teaching materials. 

Other works show an autopsy reports indicating torture of detainees killed while in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and an image of a handprint from an Iraqi detainee who died in U.S. custody in 2003.


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