Daniel Heyman’s portraits are like those of few other artists. The viewer encounters not only a person who has suffered but also their story, because Heyman incorporates his subjects’ words into his canvases.
“Bearing Witness: Daniel Heyman” is a collection of portraits of innocent Iraqi victims of torture, African-American men released from prison and immigrants to the United States. The show will be exhibited at the Laband Art Gallery on the LMU campus from Jan. 13–Mar. 13.
Heyman graduated from Dartmouth College in 1985. Long interested in the victims of violence and war, he traveled to France to interview and paint survivors of World War II. But Heyman liked little that he produced. During the Iraq War, when photos of detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison were released, he again was moved to paint the victims of war, and again his work left him dissatisfied.
But then Heyman was invited to meet some of the innocent victims of torture in Abu Ghraib prisonas they were being interviewed by lawyers. From 2005 through 2008, he accompanied a team of human rights attorneys to Jordan and Turkey, where he sat in on dozens of interviews. As Heyman heard the stories of Iraqis who were detained and tortured yet never charged with a crime, their words overwhelmed him. And that was when he realized his portraits were incomplete with those words.
In an artist statement about his work, Heyman wrote, “I hope my paintings enable others to listen, to understand a little bit more about the people we do or do not acknowledge as our neighbors, and to help break down the misunderstandings that keep people separated from one another.”
Carolyn Peter, director of the Laband Art Gallery, finds the process that led to the portraits fascinating.
“During his first visits to the Middle East,” Peter said, “Heyman created his portraits using the drypoint printmaking method. He painstakingly engraved the sitters’ words backwards into the plates so that they could be read forward in the final print. Heyman later switched to watercolors. The dense, vibrant colors and the words swirling around his subjects’ heads pull viewers in for a closer reading.”
Heyman’s work has been shown at Princeton University, Carleton College and elsewhere, and his pieces have been acquired by the Yale University Gallery, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Library of Congress. He also has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rhode Island School of Design, as well as the Pew Fellowship for the Arts.
The Laband Art Gallery is hosting several events (see sidebar) in conjunction with the “Bearing Witness” exhibit, including a March 12 conversation featuring Heyman and Rosemary Healy, a former human rights attorney who accompanied Heyman in the Middle East.
“Bearing Witness: Daniel Heyman” was co-organized by the Laband Art Gallery and the Linfield Gallery at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.