The detainees at Guantanamo Bay are now offered art classes. The prison started offering the classes following Obama’s election, and recently, officials decided to display some of the works in the prison library. Ironically, the prisoners do not have direct access to the library.
There are 171 detainees in the US prison in Cuba (down from a high of about 800); about 40 prisoners are currently taking art classes. The prison’s cultural advisor, who prefers to be called “Zak,” says that the art classes seem to make the detainees more relaxed. He said, “Some of the inmates have demonstrated artistic talent.”
The shared works are only a small part of the created works. None of the displayed works have any identifying material and are all unsigned, and none depict a person. This is in accordance with the secrecy that continues to surround Guantanamo and the detainees. There is censorship, works that identify an inmate or is deemed too aggressive are not shown. But there does not seem to be a prohibition to the production of such works.
The inmates can only use basic materials such as colored chalk; this is to protect the inmates from harming themselves or others.
BBC reports that the inmates are unable to see the ocean or the Caribbean Vegetation which surrounds the prison, but many of the pieces show islands with palm trees. Other works are of images of their villages and life before prison. A picture of the golden teapot shows one of the simple things of a better time. Drawings of doors seem to offer a glimpse into their current state.
Artistic expression and imagination cannot be limited by prison walls and these inmates have a chance to transcend their prison environment through the arts.
This is not the first artistic outlet offered to the inmates at Guantanamo. In August 2007, a book of poems inspired by life in the camp was published, titled Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, edited by the University of Iowa Press.