The artists who are giving a human face to the US's 'bug splat' drone strikes
An artists' collective in Pakistan is challenging impersonal and indiscriminate death from above with a giant image of one victim of a drone attack
The giant image of a child drone victim placed in a field by the art project NotABugSplat.
We hear a great deal about the ruthless ingenuity of military hardware, but this is something else altogether. It is a new device currently on deployment in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It has the power to startle an enemy for a moment and perhaps even render him incapable of using his weapon afterwards. In the medium-to-long term, the enemy may suffer from impaired judgment and, in some cases, be neutralised. The device is a picture of his victim.
This is not the work of the US military or the Taliban, of course, but comes instead from a group of artist-activists. Inspired by the French photographer JR, who installs hugely magnified portraits of local people in the landscape, they travelled to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the scene of many US drone attacks. With them they brought a giant poster of an unnamed child who is said to have lost both her parents and two younger siblings in one of the attacks. Having secured the agreement of local people, they unrolled the picture and fixed it flat on the ground in a field beside a group of houses.
Villagers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with the NotABugSplat image on the ground behind them.
The number of civilians so far killed by drones remains a matter of intense debate, but the worry among campaigners is that this kind of warfare makes killing unpleasantly easy. Operators have compared the experience with playing a computer game, and a Rolling Stone article in 2012 recorded their use of the term "bug splat" to describe the mess on the ground that killing someone leaves behind. The artists have chosen #NotABugSplat as the project's name.
The intension now is that any drone operator who looks down through their camera and sees this village will have reason to think twice. In their own words, the artists hope the image "will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives".
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs