Words and Images by Rachel Pafe
Usually I am on the other side. I have been the Art Writer for BYT since last October and love exploring DC’s rich cultural offerings. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I want to share a different aspect of my love for art. My exhibition of drawings, Droning On and On, on view at Tryst until June 20th, looks at aspects of the rampantly under-regulated US drone and national security policy, using Rand Paul’s recent filibuster as a starting point.
To be clear, I do not side with Rand Paul on many issues. I personally do not even like the man, but I found his words compelling amidst the nomination process for Secretary of Defense. He pointed out that despite declarations to scale back warfare after the Bush administration, under the Obama administration drone warfare has dramatically expanded. This is typically associated with antiterrorism efforts abroad, but in reality, this expansion is also occurring at home. Since 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued 1,428 permits for domestic surveillance drones and estimates an upward trend of 10,000 more in the next five years. Dropping prices and increased technological capabilities mean that drones can be deployed in a way helicopters and satellites never could.
In my large-scale drawings, I take Rand Paul’s recent 13-hour filibuster and break down two hours of it, counting out all the nouns, verbs and adjectives and giving them respective symbols. They highlight the encroachment upon the individual freedoms and liberties of Americans. Mimicking biological, organic growth, they illustrate the overwhelming amount of data that can and will be gathered from us. While they appear uniform from far away, a close look reveals all of the tiny details that each of us privately hold. My portrait and figure drawings further illustrate this by providing examples of mundane activities that will no longer be private and personal. Ultimately, the work provides glimpses into what we take for granted and what we stand to lose.
This sense of loss has become painfully clear in the recent news regarding The National Security
Agency’s secret harvesting of US citizen data using multiple companies including Facebook, Skype,
Google, Verizon, YouTube, Microsoft and Apple. The identified whistleblower, ex-CIA worker Edward
Snowden, felt a moral dilemma and leaked data when he discovered “actual abuses”. He stated, “I will
be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule
the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
We need to realize that this conversation is not being opened to sabotage the US, but to elicit a debate
on how we define the fourth amendment and personal freedom. What has emerged: no polarized
side is going to win this issue. Limited monitoring specifically linked to terrorist cases protects us,
while large-scale intelligence gathering jeopardizes our privacy. In wake of the scandal, Obama says
he welcomes debate. Yes, that is convenient to say once the information is leaked, but even the most cynical need to recognize an opportunity for action. It is time to join the discussion.