Nina Cristante is an artist, autodidactic nutritionist, Aquarius and my best friend. Had it not been for a mutual friend linking us during her temporary stay in NYC seven months back, I may’ve never been introduced to the full spectrum of her work. Just a subtle trail of digital breadcrumbs. Slow-mo-promo. A whisper, a wink, a bikini body meme. A deliberately ambiguous website hosting austere at-home workout videos and fragments of clients’ food diaries.
An all-white room. Four pieces arranged in the center of a gallery that’s otherwise minimally decorated. A bunch of guys in beards milling around outside. Your average gallery opening, right?
But this is Libya, not Berlin. The pieces on display are the corpses of Gaddafi and his loyalists. The gallery is a meat locker—an ad hoc solution to the problem of displaying rotting flesh:
The spare setting conveys just how much of Gaddafi’s power remains. Even the slain dictator’s frizzy, thinning hair suggests the degradation of the regime.
After the drainpipe ambush, Gaddafi was dragged through the streets, his body photographed endlessly. He may even have been sodomized. We can assume he didn’t like it, considering his well-documented traveling harem of busty nurses.
With so many of them captured on cell phones and featuring other men capturing the proceedings on cell phones, the videos also function as interactive internet art– a perfect nod to the art world’s current concept de rigueur.
The images reveal a torturous relationship between rebel and dictator, audience and participant, abuser and victim. They confront the viewer with his or her own complicity in the tyrant’s murder.
What did Sontag say about images of war?
In a New York Times piece on the torture porn photos from Abu Ghraib, a sort of follow-up to her book Regarding the Pain of Others, she wrote:
“The events are in part designed to be photographed. The grin is a grin for the camera. There would be something missing if, after stacking the naked men, you couldn’t take a picture of them.”
In our hyper-connected world, hyper-voyeurism has led to hyper-exhibitionism. We take photos so we can show them to other people. We like to broadcast. If only Susan could’ve tweeted that.
She also said of Abu Ghraib:
“the photographs are us. That is, they are representative of the fundamental corruptions of any foreign occupation together with the Bush administration’s distinctive policies.”
Just as much as they show snap-happy American soldiers posing with Iraqi prisoners, the photos implicated those at the highest levels of power that condoned the torture, encouraged the cover-ups and attempted to deflect attention from the illegitimacy of the invasion of Iraq.
The pictures of bloodied Gaddafi reveal a government’s fears, too.
Like Abu Ghraib, they suggest a larger narrative of lies, justice and secrecy.
They tell the story of a digital revolution: a revolution borne of technology, of French bombs and Swedish cell phones, of Arab broadcasters and of one lonely, American traitor, Bradley Manning.
Bradley Manning leaked enough sensitive data to WikiLeaks to sufficiently scare Barack “There’s a Drone for That” Obama into locking him away for good. Those stories of government corruption helped fuel Tunisia’s revolution last year—which stoked the entire Arab Spring, including protests and/or government overthrows in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon, Morocco, and Iraq.
Manning, the Heartland homosexual, now sits in a U.S. military prison. Just as much as these pictures show Gaddafi being sodomized with that broomstick like he was some savage #OWS protestor getting face-forked by a brave NYPD officer, they also show Bradley Manning being stripped, held in solitary confinement, and cockslapped with the CIA instruction manual.
We don’t know just how much Bradley’s contributions ultimately served to bring down General Gaddafi.
We do know this: Big G (or Q, or K) will never face trial. Not the sham trial of Saddam Hussein or the high-drama hilarity of Hosni Mubarak.
He won’t just vanish either. Not like dumping Bin Laden in the sea or stuffing Che in that secret hole or watching Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign fade into the ether.
In the case of Gaddafi, the violence is democratized and the damage is localized. Rest assured, the profits will remain privatized. Western multinationals’ dicks are swelling in their jeans as they look to cash in on the lucrative oil and reconstruction contracts already being drawn up for bombed-out Libya. Regretting that U.N. vote abstention, aren’t we now, Russia and China?
In a country that spent decades gripped by the psychosis of terror, the Libyan people needed proof of the demise of their heavily mythologized, uber-fabulous, golden pistol-toting Brotherly Leader.
He didn’t vanish. He went on display. The pictures bear that out. And like all images, they convey a truth much greater than their pixel count.