Torture Pictures: Andres Serrano Rekindles a Painful History

Andres Serrano, Untitled X-1, X-2, X-3, 2015. Image: Jack Shainman Gallery

Untitled X-1, X-2, X-3 by Andres Serrano is one of the Torture Pictures by the artist based on torture of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq


Andres Serrano’s Torture Pictures on display at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York stir up memories of a painful history.

By Kazad

Andres Serrano, Untitled XII (2015). © Andres Serrano. Image: Jack Shainman Gallery

 NEW YORK, NY– Presently at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York is an exhibition featuring photographs by Andres Serrano.  Titled Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015, the exhibition includes important series the artist created over the years. They comprise The Morgue and History of Sex. Also in the show are his homeless series: Nomads and Residents of New York.

In conversation with the homeless images are the torture pictures. Although torture pictures were taken several years ago, they are even more relevant today.  President Donald Trump’s recent pronouncement that he will use enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners as well as the kill the families of terrorists, these images are reminders of the atrocities of not too distant past and an uncertain future.  They bear witness to a painful history.

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The series began in 2005 after Andres Serrano was commissioned by the New York Times to create illustrations for the article What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Torture by Joseph Lelyved.  In the article, Lelyved examined the Abu Ghraib scandal in which several American soldiers were accused of human right violations for torturing captured enemy combatants. Many of the photographs from the prison located in Iraq show prisoners been tortured. While some were put in stress positions, others were tormented by dogs.   Andres continued with this torture series in 2015 when he got an offer to continue the project.

The result of that project is a collection of photographs that tell the story of torture through the years. Traveling to more than 15 countries, Andres documented different instruments of torture that became windows to the pain of those tortured. One of the images titled Iron shackles is a reminder of the handcuffs used during slavery.  It brings to the fore stories of how people were chained together, dehumanized, and forced into slavery by slave traders.   The piece is also a signifier for colonialism and the subjugation of others.

Several masks with frozen expressions are also part of the torture pictures. They remind viewers that those who wore those masks went through gruesome experiences. In Fool’s Masks IV, Hever Castle, England (Torture), 2015, for instance, Andres allows viewers to experience the face of a freighted and dying individual. The immediate question is ‘What did this man do to deserve this macabre punishment?’

While the images of objects in the torture series are very powerful in their own ways, the ones with people going through different forms of torture are even more haunting. Untitled XVIII (Torture), 2015 has the image of a hooded man with his hand tied behind his back. His body is dirty and his torn clothes lay on his back. From the man’s body language, it is clear that he is in a lot of pain.

The iconic image of a hooded man wearing a flowing gown with his outstretched hand connected to electric cables is an important signifier for the torture at Abu Ghraib. When the photograph first came into public space in 2003, the world was shocked by the revelation that captured enemy combatants were been tortured by their American captors. In his appropriation of the image, Andreas Serrano brings our attention to the consequences of war and human rights violation.  However, this is not the only photograph that rekindles the memories of the torture of prisoners under the George Bush administration.  Also in this show is the photograph of a naked man been attacked by a ferocious dog and another image of a man hanging by his hands.

There is a continuation of that story of torture in Untitled XXII (Torture), 2015. In the image, a blindfolded man is tied to a stick with his hand behind his back. Kneeling on the hard floor, the strain and pressure of torture are visible on him.  Perhaps, the uncertainty of what happens next is the greatest torture.Installed not too far from the torture pictures is a portrait of Donald Trump.  It is telling that the portrait of Trump taken several years will be included in this show.

Installed not too far from the torture pictures is a portrait of Donald Trump.  It is telling that the portrait of Trump taken several years will be included in this show.  With his recent call to bring back torture, Serrano’s torture pictures are reminders that atrocities of the past can happen now.

Andres Serrano, Torture Pictures. © Andres Serrano. Image: Jack Shainman Gallery

Andres Serrano, Untitled XXVI-1 (Torture), 2015. © Andres Serrano. Image: Jack Shainman Gallery

Andres Serrano, Untitled XX (2015). © Andres Serrano. Image: Jack Shainman Gallery

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