The Imaginary Art Museum at Gitmo

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A few minutes ago, I received an email proclaiming the opening of a new cultural institution, "The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History."

Several artists are showing work in the Tipton Three Exhibition Space, and there's a critical studies center as well. If you look up the place on Google Maps, you can see it right there.

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But The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History is not actually a real place, but a clever alternate reality fiction predicated on the idea that Gitmo's closed and that Americans wanted to come to terms with what went on there.

"The museum, located at the former site of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba, is an institution dedicated to critically remembering the U.S. prison which was active between 2005 and 2012 before it was permanently decommissioned and closed," we read in the press release. 

But more than 150 prisoners remain at Gitmo. And last I checked, most Americans were not blocking off their evenings and weekends to explore the civil-rights abuses of the war on terror.

While creating imaginary entities is a tried-and-true protest technique, its application in this specific case is brilliant. Gitmo is a peculiar invention that only exists thanks to a tangle of legal rulings that allow Americans to pretend that Gitmo is not a part of America, even though it's governed and controlled by Americans. No one really gets to see the place, as reporters' and other visitors' experiences are crafted by the authorities. The detention camp, as a place where people are held and interrogated, remains an imaginary place for all but the prisoners and the national security officials who operate it. 

The imaginary museum draws its power from this resonance: If Gitmo exists because of one fiction, perhaps it can be closed by another? Or put another (augmented) way, germane to this digital project: if we change Gitmo's website, can it actually change its physical and legal reality? That's what the museum's organizers are hoping. 

"The museum is the result of a collaboration between artists/theorists and is meant to act as both a critique of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility as well as assert the possibility of its closure," Rene Guerne, one of its organizers, told me in an email. "In this sense, it is a 'real' museum, although I cannot promise that there is a physical building in Guantanamo Bay."

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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