After the abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed in 2004, the photographs and their endless iterations in media and visual culture became emblematic of the post-9/11 era and the failing global war on terrorism. Media outlets absorbed the term “information extraction” almost seamlessly from the investigative reports and public statements generated by the White House to justify the brutalities committed against Iraqi civilians at the prison.
Information extraction, or IE, emerged in the language of artificial intelligence and coding in the late 1970s. Spearheaded by US military development and research programs, IE enabled scanning the Internet, people, and sites for possible threats. In recent years, computational linguistics has been fully folded into the way our culture understands the functions and behaviors of the human body, which in turn normalizes euphemisms like “information extraction.” The term disembodies both perpetrator and victim by equating them with neutral data sets.
The body as a mere repository of information has a long genealogy in art history and visual culture, including the anatomical dissections of Da Vinci and Rembrandt, public displays of slain rulers’ bodies, and the widely circulated video of Saddam Hussein’s dental examination. This exhibition draws works from BAMPFA’s permanent collection that demonstrate how power is articulated and reinforced through the dehumanized body. From the sexualized and impoverished black bodies of Adrian Piper’s work to the fleshy figures of Iraqi detainees in Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib drawings, the works invoke an emphatic re-embodiment of the violence that pervades history.