When I first encountered the images documenting the use of torture in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, I was preparing two groups of paintings with divergent though not unrelated foci. The first series was based on the plays of Bertolt Brecht; the second explored the viability for contemporary audiences of the snake as a still-relevant symbol of both power and evil. Each group investigated the relationship between those in power and those who are subject to it. In the case of Brecht, I was interested in the Mother Courage character and in the relation of Galileo to the ubiquitous influence of the papacy.

The photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib raised more immediate questions about the abuse of authority, and in my studio work, I found myself turning repeatedly to the prison images as the most recognizable, visceral examples of abuse of power today.

Studying the Abu Ghraib photos, I came to develop a series of paintings and drawings that reflect on the cyclical nature of torture and violence, on the sexual aspect inherent in much violence, and finally on the dialectical nature of the relationship which holds between authority and its subject.

Recently, a more complex issue arose from the work, and the Abu Ghraib narrative receded: What happens when the authority figure becomes indistinguishable from the subject? Or to consider it another way, what happens when an individual (or the body politic) turns its regulation inwards, and is itself both authority and subject? How does this transformation fulfill Foucault’s idea of “the docile body”? What does it look like?
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