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08 Dec 2007 08:43
A series of six black-and-white prints on display in an unassuming corner of the New York Public Library have sparked controversy on the airwaves and blogosphere quite out of keeping with the dark, marble-lined corridor in which they are hung.
The prints show the mugshots, in the style of police arrest photographs, of main members of the Bush administration in the first few years of his presidency. There is President George Bush himself, scowling into the camera, and a fierce, finger-pointing Dick Cheney.
Each of the “suspects” in Line Up, as the display is called, carries a placard bearing a date.
The artists, Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, have chosen the dates to refer to key speeches in which they believe the politicians incriminated themselves in front of the American people.
An audio tape runs beside the prints and plays the speeches as the prints come up in a slide show.
On January 28 2003, weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Bush makes what is now known to be the false claim that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”.
Cheney is heard in January 2001 insisting that there is not a “single shred of evidence” that he used government contracts to favour his old firm, Halliburton.
Among the other subjects are three former officials—White House chief of staff Karl Rove, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his assistant Richard Perle—and Condoleezza Rice.
Despite its unassuming location on the third floor of the library, word of the exhibition’s sharp political tone quickly got on to the blogosphere. Conservative commentators have decried the fact that a public institution had showcased the prints.
“What is disgusting about these doctored photos is the place of prominence the library has given them,” one blogger wrote. “I am shocked and angry that a public library would stoop to this level.”
Tammy Bruce, a right-wing radio talk-show host, said: “At first I wondered who put al-Qaeda in charge of the New York Public Library, but then of course remembered the American left is doing their bidding for them.”
A spokesperson for the library said that the reaction had taken the prints out of context. They were part of a larger exhibition of 23 different printmakers.
The library was making no political statement, she said, pointing out that “printmaking has been a popular medium for artists’ commentary on current events of their day, among them Hogarth, Goya, Gillray and Daumier”.
Ligorano and Reese originally produced the mugshots as a series of 5Â 000 sets of postcards, which they sold outside the Republican party convention in New York in 2004. Copies can still be bought on the internet for $6 a set.
They have said little about the current controversy, allowing the prints to speak for themselves.
There is a playful side to their work. The slideshow ends with the US president delivering his famous Bushism from 2004: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”—Guardian Unlimited Â
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