An 18-foot-long rhinestone-covered replica of a U.S. Predator drone is the center of a new multimedia art exhibit that opened on March 1 at the Hampden Gallery in the University of Massachusetts’s Southwest Residential Area.
The exhibition, called “Home Drone,” was created by Heather Layton, a senior lecturer at the University of Rochester, and Brian Bailey, a professor of adolescence education at Nazareth College. It features several multimedia pieces representing the effects of drone strikes in Middle Eastern countries such as Pakistan.
The exhibit prompts viewers to imagine what would happen if a drone hit the state of Massachusetts through textual stories, photographs and video.
Within the exhibit, there is a map of drone strikes that have occurred in Pakistan superimposed onto a map of Massachusetts displaying what would be wiped out.
Anne Laprade Seuthe, Director of the Hampden Gallery, was greatly impacted by the superimposed map.
“Those drone strikes could have been on a playground, at a wedding, a funeral … It makes you think – any action that you take, you never know what the ripple effect will be,” said Seuthe.
According to a University press release, in addition to increasing social awareness about the controversy, Layton hopes the exhibit will aid in creating cultural understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan, in addition to helping “to cultivate peaceful relationships between individuals, regardless of religion, gender, socioeconomic status, age, nationality and culture.”
“Hearing the human stories of the strikes humanizes the situation. Layton and Bailey went to Pakistan and met all these people who have been impacted by drone violence. It’s a moral dilemma but I think any time you deal with war it tends to be, because is it better to put American soldiers at risk?” said John Simpson, the manager of the Hampden Gallery and lecturer in the Art, Architecture, and Art History Department at UMass.
The Hampden Gallery doesn’t usually host social protests or politically geared showings, but this exhibit seemed relevant enough for Seuthe to make an exception, mostly because of the high level of the artist commitment toward achieving a greater level of social understanding.
“This exhibit brings a topic to light that is intended to spark debate or conversations about the whole drone program. It helps you look at your own human scale in relationship to this object, as the artists call it, a ‘killing machine,’” said Seuthe.
According to Seuthe, the drone replica has been catching the most attention at the exhibition, but once people look around they realize how much there is to learn..
“The human stories hanging on the wall are different than they would be in a book because seeing them showcased in a gallery is just different. It’s more powerful,” said Seuthe.
The exhibition also features a laptop opened up to a clip of the 2012 presidential debate that replays a clip of Mitt Romney saying he whole-heartedly supports the drone program.
“This is what the Pakistanis see – the leaders of the free world saying how great the drone program is while families are being killed,” said Seuthe.
Seuthe hopes the exhibit will invite people of all perspectives on the campus and throughout the larger community.
“Home Drone aims to get people to talk and discuss critical issues that affect us each day,” said Seuthe.
Senior Japanese and linguistics major Jenny McKeon has worked as a gallery guard assistant at the Hampden Gallery for about three years.
She said that the drone exhibit has helped her to better understand the impact drones are having in the Middle East.
“This exhibit is more powerful than many of the other shows we see in the Hampden Gallery. It has more of a political message, but it’s also really informative,” said McKeon.
According to the release, both Layton and Bailey were named “citizen diplomats” by the U.S. Department of State in 2012. Their previous works have included installations that challenge assumptions about urban gun violence, fears of other cultures, and consumerism and self-absorption.
The exhibit will be open until March 26 but will be closed during spring recess, March 17 to 24. The gallery is open from 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.
Samara Abramson can be reached at [email protected]