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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Artists Try to Prick Conscience of Drone Operators With Giant Portrait of Orphan in Pakistani Field

A new art installation unveiled in Pakistan this week features a huge image of a child reportedly orphaned in a drone strike in 2009.notabugsplat.comA new art installation unveiled in Pakistan this week features a huge image of a child reportedly orphaned in a drone strike in 2009.

While a series of deadly bombings in Pakistan this week threatens to undermine peace talks between the government and the Taliban, a group of rights activists and artists have launched a campaign to draw attention to the human cost of another sort of violence â€" American drone strikes aimed at militants, which have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians in recent years.

The centerpiece of the “Not a Bug Splat” campaign is a photograph of a child reportedly orphaned in one attack, which was made into an enormous poster and installed in a field in Pakistan to stare up at the pilots who operate the unmanned aerial vehicles by remote control. The project â€" which is the work of Pakistanis, Americans and the French street artist JR â€" takes its name from a piece of military software that generates computer models of the destruction a bombing raid might cause. When projected onto overhead images, those models are said to look something like the remains of a squashed insect on a windscreen.

The art project is described as an attempt to counter the dehumanizing implications of that metaphor. “Humans appear as disposable bugs when viewed through a traditional drone camera,” the group writes next to an overhead image on its website. “We changed this. Now, a drone will see an actual face of a child, creating dialogue and, possibly, empathy.”

A screenshot from the "Not a Bug Splat" website.A screenshot from the “Not a Bug Splat” website.

One of the activists, Akash Goel, told The Lede in an interview that the poster was made from a photograph first published by Wired in 2010, of a young girl whose parents and brother were killed in a drone strike near the Afghan border on Aug. 21, 2009. The photograph was taken in the North Waziristan village of Dande Darpa Khel by a photographer from the region, Noor Behram, who works to document the impact of drone strikes by photographing children orphaned or killed in the attacks. (His images have been distributed by the British legal charity Reprieve.)

The missiles used in that 2009 strike killed 12 people, including women and children, when they struck a compound near an Islamic school set up by Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan fighter and senior Taliban member, Pakistani officials told my colleagues Pir Zubair Shah and Lydia Polgreen at the time.

Another spokesman for the collective, Saks Afridi â€" a Pakistani-American creative director in New York â€" said that the project was part of the artist JR’s “Inside Out Project,” a series of large-scale photographs installed in public settings around the globe, supported by a $1 million grant from the TED foundation, awarded in 2011.

The trailer for a documentary about the French street artist’s participatory art project, “Inside Out.”

Although the poster was installed in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province by Pakistani artists, Dr. Goel â€" an Indian-American physician in New York who has worked for the Clinton Foundation â€" said that the group wants to draw attention to what it sees as a global problem, the dehumanizing effect of the U.S. war by remote control, rather than a regional one. Asked what message the group hoped to send to the drone pilots, Dr. Goel said, simply, “This isn’t a video game.”

He also said that data compiled by the New America Foundation and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests that only about two percent of those killed by the C.I.A. in Pakistan were high-profile militants targeted in the attacks. Noting that estimates of the total number of deaths vary from about 1,500 to more than 3,500, Dr. Goel added: “It is morally reprehensible that we don’t even know who they are how many there are.”

Images posted on Instagram by Insiya Syed, a Pakistani photojournalist, showed her traveling with some of the “creative masters” behind the project, and curious onlookers watching the installation near the town of Swabi in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on March 28.