For many of us in America’s finest city, the effects of torture seem distant – but in reality there are over 11,000 survivors of torture living in San Diego County. Although it is a difficult and wrenching topic, we feel that it is an important one to address. Most of the survivors are refugees from countries where torture is prevalent. Please see the recent article in the U-T San Diego.
When the the Museum featured Inquisition: Torture and Intolerance a decade ago, most Americans considered torture a relic of the past, something from the Middle Ages, something that only happened in far away lands. Since then, the War on Terror, Guantanamo Bay, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal have demonstrated that torture is still occurring, and it’s closer than we may think.
When Inquisition debuted many people thought that the artifacts, which were so gruesome that some people fainted in the exhibition, did not belong in our museum. We are pleased to be able to tell you that this time the exhibit, which opened this past Saturday, has been changed from the incarnation that was here previously. While the artifacts come from the Museo della Tortura in Italy and are similar, the focus is very different.
This time, these instruments serve as a gateway to conversation about contemporary human rights issues. We are partnering with Survivors of Torture, International, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, and the International Legal Studies Program at California Western School of Law to take a serious look at why torture occurs in today’s world.
The exhibit is designed to help people question their assumptions about torture and examine the difficult situations in which ordinary people find themselves. It also describes how people can make a difference as “upstanders” – people who stand up for others – in a world that has too many bystanders. We are proud to say that we feature examples of real-life upstanders in this exhibit’s new presentation. They are not well-known humanitarians who have devoted their lives to improving the human condition, but ordinary people who thought for themselves and stood up against something they knew to be wrong. Just as we can be unwitting instruments of torture, we can also serve as instruments of change
We hope that, through this exhibit, people will engage in thoughtful dialogue about torture in our post-9/11 world. We hope that by exploring this significant human rights issue, we will encourage people to join us and our partners – Survivors of Torture, International, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, and the International Legal Studies Program at California Western School of Law – to work towards putting an end to these atrocities. And we hope that, by developing a deeper understanding of ourselves, we can help create a future free of the intentional infliction of pain and suffering.
As you may know, our mission at the Museum is “Inspiring human connections by exploring the human experience.” Our vision is to be “San Diego’s dynamic place to go to learn about each other, reflect on our place in the world, and build a better community.” We strive to be a site of discourse, a place where people can come ask hard questions and explore critical issues facing our world.
Whether or not you choose to see the exhibit, we extend our deepest gratitude for your continued support. It means a great deal to us, and we are grateful that you are a part of the the Museum’s community.
Rex Garniewicz, COO For Programs and Collections