Photographic images depicting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of U.S service men and women were recently circulated in the American news media. Conforming to a fixed news format, the grotesque images were neatly packaged into news items and brought to public attention. The initial limited number of images available enabled the media to sterilize the horrific narrative embedded in those photographs, allowing officials and pundits alike to dub them ‘isolated incidents’.
Powered by the rapid, repetitive news cycle, the images soon transcended their context and became detached from the circumstances that brought them about. Once again images were flattened by the news media, robbed of the intricacy and depth of their own depiction. The public that was captivated by the explicit images fell captive to the cunning media. The abuse of human rights in general and the torture of war prisoners in particular soon became a single event - its beginning marked by the emergence of the images and its end signified by Secretary Rumsfeld’s televised visit to the site. The media placed a black hood over the heads of its audience, preventing it from seeing the bigger picture that connects the occurrences of torture to the U.S. occupation in Iraq, to oil, corporate greed, racism, twisted Middle East policies, and ultimately to the current U.S. administration and others that have preceded it. Americans were led to believe that the U.S. mission in Iraq was just and that the prison incident was merely a stain that can be easily removed by the corporate washing machine that is the U.S. media.
Brought about as a reaction to their manipulation by the media, Patterns of Abuse takes a critical look at the iconic status of the images and reinstates their original narratives. Allowing for a longer gaze to be directed at those acts of terror, the work repeats and connects the images to suggest a greater pattern of human rights abuses stemming from U.S. international policies. The dehumanizing effect of the war resulting from policies executed by the occupation forces will forever be woven into the collective memory of those subjected to it.