Paradoxical Art

October 1, 2006
Social commentary: Pomerantz&squot;s juxtaposition of Castro&squot;s face with images of Guantánamo Bay in an untitled work alludes to the U.S. government&squot;s "hypocrisy"

Social commentary: Pomerantz's juxtaposition of Castro's face with images of Guantánamo Bay in an untitled work alludes to the U.S. government's "hypocrisy"

Lara Pomerantz '06 says she hopes a mixed-media artwork she created for the spring 2006 course "The Arts and Human Rights" will "raise important questions and spark debate about issues of responsibility, freedom, and human rights." The untitled work, a collage consisting of construction-paper cutouts of an image of Fidel Castro and manipulated photographs of the detainee facility at Guantánamo Bay, was inspired by her study of Cuba's medical system during a Duke Academic Deans Summer Research Fellowship in June 2004. It will be on display in the Bryan Center for two years as part of a new program sponsored by the Cipriano Arts Fund, offering grants to a few students each semester.

In future fall and spring semesters, until the fund is out of money, students will be able to propose art projects to a committee, which will then choose two to three applicants to receive the grant. Pomerantz and Liza Bishop, now a senior, were the spring 2006 recipients of the grant.

In the essay accompanying her piece, Pomerantz writes, "As an American, I have taken certain basic human rights for granted. Cuba was my first encounter with a denial of such fundamental rights. While feeling frustrated and confused by these restricted freedoms, I became enamored with the country and its people." By juxtaposing the pictures of Castro with those from Guantánamo Bay, her aim is not to single out the Cuban leader for criticism, she says, but rather to suggest "the hypocrisy of the American government in denouncing the Cuban government with self-satisfaction."

Elaborating on her Warholesque rendition of Castro's image, Pomerantz says, "through the pop-art reproduction of Fidel's face, I am commenting on the restrictive, abusive nature of his dictatorship. I used the medium of pop art because it allows for creativity and conveys the power of Fidel's face."

The photographs from Guantánamo Bay have been stretched, further suggesting a distortion of American ideals in the reality that is Guantánamo. They also imply a reduction in U.S. stature as its global reach has stretched its resources and increased its contact, for good and bad, with others.

Pomerantz says that "each photograph emphasizes feelings of entrapment and restrictions by foregrounding barbed wire, fences, and watchtowers. Just like the Cuban people, the detainees at Guantánamo are being denied truth, free will, and choice in the name of national security." She closes her accompanying essay with two questions: "What should Americans demand in terms of American anti-terrorist policy? What does our democracy stand for?"