Exhibition review: Gaming in Waziristan

Listening to an account of the horrors of the Western Front in 1917, Prime Minister Lloyd George noted, “If people really knew the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.”
Today what the general public “don’t know and can’t know” about is the ongoing US drone war on Pakistan. After being initiated by the Bush Administration supposedly to target suspected terrorists, the attacks by unmanned aircraft controlled by pilots based in Virginia have increased three-fold under President Obama. According to Reprieve approximately 2,283 people have been killed since 2004. While the Pakistani Government plays a duplicitous game of publicly criticising the strikes at the same time as secretly encouraging them, Pakistani public opinion is firmly against this American aggression. A 2010 New American Foundation survey found 76 percent of people living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas opposed the attacks.
Gaming in Waziristan is a deeply shocking snapshot into the human cost of this high-tech slaughter. Made up of three video installations, the central part of this small exhibition is a looping 13 minute montage of photographs and grainy film footage taken after drone strikes by Pakistani journalist Noor Behram. Homes reduced to rubble, displaced families, wounded children and, most distressing of all, a dead girl with the top half of her skull missing – these images won’t be appearing on the BBC anytime soon. As the film progresses it becomes clear the liberal imperialist ideology of Western nations bringing civilisation to the rest of the world is the exact opposite of reality. Rather it is we in the West who are the savages bringing death and destruction to a largely poor people. Westerners killing Asians in their hundreds. Which century are we living in again?
Beaconsfieldshould be applauded for putting on this essential exhibition. However, as a contemporary art gallery arguably it is the wrong space for the subject matter. When I was there the animated art world discussions of the chatty crowd verged on the offensive next to the somber, often nauseating, images on display.
With the legality of drone attacks being challenged by people such as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, more light is increasingly being shone on something the US and UK Governments would rather remain in darkness. The public in the West need and deserve to know about the killing that is being done in their name.
Gaming in Waziristan runs from 11:00 – 17:00 Tuesday to Friday, until 5 August 2011.
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. [email protected] and http://twitter.com/#!/IanJSinclair

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