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Exhibition

06.02.21 - 16.05.21

Debi Cornwall. Welcome to Camp America

Apart from the prisoners’ orange jumpsuits, few pictures circulate showing what is really hiding behind the walls of Guantanamo, the American military base located at the eastern tip of Cuba and infamous for being a place of torture and incarceration. Between March 2014 and January 2015, during three stays, the New York photographer, Debi Cornwall, was authorised to enter the Guantanamo prison compound – nicknamed Gitmo by its inmates – to carry out a photographic
report, on the strict condition that she abide stringently by certain rules. A ban on photographing soldiers’ faces, on taking the slightest picture of surveillance systems, an obligation to be escorted at all times and to have the pictures recorded on the camera’s SD card validated every day and ... to develop the negatives immediately afterwards so that they could be inspected, which she would do in the bathtub of her hotel room, under the watchful eye of her escort. On the basis of the photographs for which she received approval by the military, Debi Cornwall has put together a committed work drawing on her experience as a lawyer. She practised the profession for twelve years as a member of the New York bar.

Photographs then appeared of a Gitmo that few people would have imagined. The photographer classified them into three distinct series, so many faces of that place where nobody really chose to live.
“Gitmo at home, Gitmo at play” delves into the prison world and the living conditions of the detainees (a cell with just the essentials, a kit of clothing

reduced to basics, a rubber prayer rug ... ) but not only ... She proposes, much to our amazement, pictures of leisure areas on the naval base reserved for military personnel and their families and for the foreign workers who are employed on the base. These pictures, which seem to be pictures of an all-inclusive seaside resort (beachfront sunbeds, play areas and swimming pools) surprise us with their rather incongruous character.

“Gitmo on sale” documents the photographs of souvenir objects on sale at the naval base’s shop. Nostalgic people find a place where they can buy a bobblehead figurine of Fidel Castro, mugs depicting Camp X-Ray, (the former temporary detention facility), liqueur glasses, or fluffy animals such as a vulture, a rasta iguana or a rat.
The last series “Beyond Gitmo” finally shows us former detainees, presumed terrorists, having found freedom back home or displaced to foreign countries. Just like the army had forbidden Debi Cornwall to take photos of faces in Guantanamo Bay, Debi Cornwall travelled the world to photograph more than a dozen of them in an almost identical way, all of them appearing “faceless” ... photographed from the back!

Biography

A conceptual documentary artist & filmmaker who returned to visual expression in 2014 after a 12-year career as a civil rights lawyer. Marrying dark humour with structural critique, her work examines American state-created realities through photographs, film, testimony and archival material.

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Debi Cornwall
Smoke Break, Camp America, 2014 © Debi Cornwall