Boundary Breaker: Garry Neill Kennedy’s Superstar Shadow Project

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian birth, was illegally detained on September 26, 2002, by United States officials on a return trip to his home in Ottawa while crossing a similar borderline through New York’s John F Kennedy airport after a vacation in Tunis. Arar was interrogated about alleged terrorist links to Al-Qaeda, and 12 days later, he was chained, shackled and flown to Syria, where he was held in a tiny cell for just over 10 months before he was released to a different prison with better conditions. In Syria, he’d been beaten, tortured and forced to make a false confession. Thanks to the dogged support of his wife, Monia Mazigh, who rallied constant pressure from various Canadian human rights organizations and the Government of Canada, Arar was released from captivity on October 5, 2003. A full, official Canadian Government inquiry lead by Justice Dennis O’Connor absolved Arar on September 18, 2006, of any wrongdoing complete with the categorical recognition that no evidence existed to indicate that Arar had committed any offence that constituted a threat to the security of Canada.

The details of Arar’s personal story were not fully revealed until he testified at the federal commission inquiry in 2006. The Colours of Citizen Arar, Kennedy’s latest Superstar Shadow project, conceptually grew from the narrative transcripts of Arar’s torture in Syrian jails. The phrase “The Colours of Citizen Arar” was painted from floor to ceiling on the walls of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (June 29, 2007, to March 2, 2008) in colours that Arar speaks about in his text: fluorescent orange representing the colour of Arar’s prison garments, black marking the electrical cables used to tie up Arar in torture sessions, red, yellow and blue alluding to Arar’s description of the colours of the resulting bruises on his body …

With The Colours of Citizen Arar, Kennedy does something new by engaging ideological combatants along power lines that are not typological equals in power or stature. Consequently, the painting installation does not represent nation versus nation or individual versus individual but, rather, a single citizen in conflict with his entire government while it is engaged with other governments in a multi-national police action that overrode his rights as a human being …

See Issue 110 to read the entire article!

Volume 28, Number 2

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #110, published June 2009.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.