Art of War
Seeing the Disappeared, the Index’s first exhibition in 2004, featured a window installation of overlapping watercolors of detainees that referenced the form of missing-person flyers that proliferated in public space in downtown Manhattan in the months following September 11th. These images suggested a parallel narrative of human disappearance and legal erasure that was emerging from the racial profiling, indefinite detention, and deportation of specific populations, largely comprised of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian men from our communities.
A vital component of the Index archive and visual language is the ongoing series of watercolor portraits of disappeared individuals. These images are drawn from archival research and interviews on the treatment and stories of those who end up entangled in systems of indefinite detention, including human rights lawyers and prison personnel.
We specifically link watercolor, a medium historically associated with Sunday painting, landscape, and leisure to represent the faces and bodies whose brutal experiences are often dissolved within larger dialogues around “the war on terror.” Through the layering and accumulation of individual, transparent strokes, textured portraits emerge of men and women whose images most often appear to us in the media as degraded mug shots, pixelated passport photos, or not at all. In this process, the process of figurative painting becomes a means to restore dignity and humanity to subjects treated as casualties of injustice & war.