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SDMOM Takes A New Approach To Exhibit

September 3, 2012 1:01 p.m.

Rex Garniewicz, Chief Operating Officer, San Diego Museum of Man

Kathi Anderson, Executive Director, Survivors of Torture International

Related Story: Instruments of Torture


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. When images of torture. Culture today they are most often associated with horror films. For whatever reason audiences seem to love seeing desperate people in gruesome devices as long as they know it is not real. But the devices on display now at the San Diego Museum of Man depicted real instruments of torture and they are not so much aimed at entertainment as they are education about the reality of torture both in the past and the present. I would like to welcome my guest Rex Garniewicz with the San Diego Museum of Man and Rex, welcome to the program.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Thank you very much

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Explain if you would have this instruments of torture differs from the one back in 2000.

REX GARNIEWICZ: That is a great question and I think as you introduced it with a horror movie scenario that is sort of how it played out in 2000 you see these, these are fascinatingly gruesome objects and people wanted to see them and it was presented very much as something that had happened in the past, a slice in time. And it wasn't really related to the present.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It was, didn't have as much of this educational element if I recall is that correct?

REX GARNIEWICZ: That's great we try to bookend this with talk about the contemporary story of torture around the world.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Describe if you would what visitors first see as they enter the San Diego Museum of Man.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Actually when they enter the exhibit we have a small room that sort of talks about contemporary issues surrounding torture and one of the first images that visitors see is a picture of the twin towers in flames.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why did you choose that?

REX GARNIEWICZ: Based on how people react to it is one of the ways that we try to explore people's capacity to torture. And when we were working with our partners to develop this one of the things that they noted is if you show someone an image of another person being tortured they would say oh, I would never do that. I would never do something like that to another human. But if you show them something that they find uncomfortable, stressful, threatening, they often will have a different sort of statement about torture and so this is to catch people off guard and help them recognize that all of us in certain situations have the capacity to torture.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay so that's very interesting so you go in and see the picture of the twin towers and 911 and it sort of makes you think okay there are some people doing some terrible things in the world and sometimes you've got to figure out what those things are and then they enter into the exhibit itself. What did they see there?

REX GARNIEWICZ: The entrance to the exhibit. The first object they see is the iron maiden and this is one of the most important objects in the exhibit. It is the oldest nonexisting iron maiden. It was actually made in 1828 to decorate a patrician's palace, their dungeon, there.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to talk to a little bit more about that described for people because they can go on the website and take a look about what is and iron maiden look like?

REX GARNIEWICZ: It is shaped like a woman with two doors on the front there close with iron spikes that would go through someone's body what they were and closed within it and Don a lot of them the spikes are possible to different portions of the body depending on how long you wanted someone to survive within a.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you say this was made in the 19th century for someone's personal, basically not their torture dungeon, but basically some sort of an exhibit, their own private exhibit.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Yeah and I think people at that time, the industrial age wanted to sort of review the aggressiveness of the past as something that was over. So this image was basically how horrible people were in the Middle Ages.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Even back then everything is worse in the past.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Everything is worse in the past, right

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You mentioned John B Kroc Institute for peace and justice, how did this collaboration influenced the exhibit instruments of torture at the Museum of Man?

Well it was really helpful for me my experiences as an anthropologist but I didn't have a lot of knowledge about torture. So the partners product a lot of information to inform how we presented this to the public. And so the Joan B Kroc center for peace and justice really allowed us to examine some of the humanitarian aspects associated with torture and social justice issues and sort of helped us frame that in contemporary society.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sort of something a product of the discussion around this particular exhibit.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Sometimes when we were working on the exhibit went in directions I wasn't really expecting because I brought in some sort of misconceptions about torture myself to the development process.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you about those misconceptions but first I want to get this little sound clip from Kathi Anderson. She is the executive director of survivors of torture international and here is what she told KPBS about the importance of this exhibit.

KATHI ANDERSON: I think it is important that people realize that torture has been used for many many years and it continues to be used. The latest report by Amnesty International notes that 101 countries currently use torture on a systematic basis. And that there are survivors from having been tortured. Some do remain in their countries but many have to flee for their own safety and they go to countries of safe haven such as the United States and specifically to San Diego as we are on the busiest border crossing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Kathi Anderson executive director survivors of torture international and Rex, I believe one of the things that took you by surprise was the number of people coming to the exhibit who are survivors of torture. How did that affect you?

REX GARNIEWICZ: I had no idea that there are so many survivors of torture in San Diego County over 11,000 survivors of torture and one of the things that the partners trained me to do early on is, a lot of people will respond to torture because they are uncomfortable with the topic by trying to make some type of joke you never know who your audience is and you never really know what someone has been there with their life. So it is something that we at the museum were trying to be very careful and to train all of our staff not to do and I actually walked a reporter through the exhibit and explained to him what we were doing and afterwards he told me how he had actually been tortured as a child and how it affected him to this day.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is remarkable to me that, because what would seem to be the reaction to something like this for someone having gone through a terrible experience like being tortured, being cruelly treated physically for one reason or another, this might be the last thing that anyone would actually want to see. Have you been able to figure out the reasons that people who have survived torture want to see this exhibit?

REX GARNIEWICZ: Well I think for this, I cannot really speak for everyone but I think for the people I've talked to and this gentleman in particular he said it is really important that you are telling a story and you are exposing this so people know that this still happens today and are aware of it. Because so many people wanted North. And pretend it isn't happening around the world or in our country and several people have said I think it's terrible that you have this exhibit of torture in the ballpark and he said I think it's great that you have an exhibit on torture and elbow part because this is something that people need to know about.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Rex Garniewicz with the San Diego Museum of Man and we are talking about their exhibit instruments of torture and Rex, you are saying that you went into this exhibit with the misconceptions about torture. What were some of them?

REX GARNIEWICZ: I think one of my misconceptions is probably one of the most common ones and that is that torture is used to get information from people and in reality, torture is not good at doing that at all. The reasons torture is used around the world is to instill fear in populations and terrify people and that is used to control them.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And there are also as I understand it, psychological reasons for torture in that it is used sometimes to humiliate people.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Yeah and some of the objects in this exhibit that are real objects from the Middle Ages were used to humiliate people and that psychological aspect of torture doesn't seem as gruesome as some of the physical instruments. But it is just as long-lasting and just as damaging to people accused him.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Another surprising and disturbing element of the devices on display some of them are having described as being used only on women. What does that say about the society and the time in which the objects are used?

REX GARNIEWICZ: It tells us something about the time and there are several aspects of that, in that a lot of the psychological devices in the exhibit were used on women and they were used in the way that torture works to control populations and instill fear. Women were some of the victims of that in the Middle Ages in an attempt to keep them in domestic slavery essentially. And when I've walked people through the exhibit, social justice people and people from other countries, they have commented that not only did they see the devices in the exhibit as reflecting a time, that they see that as sort of a lasting effect that other societies are still torturing women, women are still heavily tortured in some of the countries where torture is occurring today.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And not so much for political as for societal reasons to keep women in line. Is that the idea?

REX GARNIEWICZ: Yeah I think that is a common reason that that torture occurred. And some of the devices in the exhibit like the chastity belts reflect that there are certain violent acts against women like rape that were very prevalent and are heavily used as instruments of torture. In the ancient times and in modern societies.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to go to another clip from Kathi Anderson with the survivors of torture international here in San Diego. She is talking about this exhibit and she's also talking about how 9/11 changed a lot of Americans attitudes toward torture. Here's what she had to say.

KATHI ANDERSON: Prior to 9/11 we as Americans always said torture is horrible. And, that is not of value of our country. It is not part of who we are. It is not her character. And we were always proud of that, hands down. 9/11 happened and then there were conversations about I wonder if torture is okay or not. And what I have found in these conversations afterwards is generally speaking that younger people are the ones who are thinking I wonder if torture is okay. But when I talk to older people, people from the World War II generation, they, it brings tears to their eyes. They say this is not the country I fought for. Where torture may be okay. Because it is never okay. They experienced some of that in the wars and they understand the significance of it and it is very real. And we as an organization, our clients, we always say torture is never okay.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That again, Kathy Anderson, with the survivors of torture international. It sounds to me, Rex, that this particular exhibit that you have at the Museum of Man is a lot more profound than the one people might remember back in 2000.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Yeah I think it has caused a lot more discussion. You know one of the great moments for me is, there was a Vietnam veteran went through the exhibit with his son and once he had seen that, he started telling his son stories that his son had never heard before. And this is like, the guy is 30 years old. And so, like he came to me and he said I never knew my dad had gone through that. And this exhibit I think allows people an opportunity to talk about things that happened in their life. In a way that you can be open about them. That we share this as humans. We'll have the capacity to do things like that and it is sort of understanding that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In fact one of the instruments of torture they suggest people think about is that people are instruments of torture.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Yeah it is sort of frame it that way when people go into the beginning and experience these studies that have been done that say it is very easy to say other people are wrong for torturing, but it is very hard to admit that in certain situations we would do exactly that same thing. So it is not about blaming people. It is about understanding ourselves. And that has created a lot of comments and a lot of discussions. And some that have been really informative to me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It also seems that the museum district is the exhibit is a call to action. Can you explain how you're doing this?

REX GARNIEWICZ: Yeah one of the things you do at the end of the exhibit is look out how easy it is for us to stand by and not speak up about something that is in essence how torture is intended to work. It is to keep you quiet. But not only in regards to torture, but in regards to lots of other things. Rather than being bystanders, we can be up-standers. We can speak out about things that should be happening. Or, hell people on the street when people are walking by them and I think at the end of the exhibit is a call to action to try to be a better person than I thought I try to do.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Using the devices as a way to get people to look inside themselves.

REX GARNIEWICZ: Yeah and a lot of people don't want to do that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that the instrument of torture exhibit is on display now at the San Diego Museum of Man and I believe it continues for the rest of the year, Rex, is that the idea?

REX GARNIEWICZ: We have a limited engagement I would recommend people make a weekday trip. It has been very busy on the weekends. So Monday through Friday are the best times walk through the exhibit. It is air-conditioned

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's right, no torture for the air conditioning and also no kids under the age of 13, right?

REX GARNIEWICZ: Because of the nature of the material in the exhibit we strongly recommend not to have kids under 13 go through it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Rex Garniewicz with the San Diego Museum of Man. Thank you very much.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Be sure to watch KPBS Evening Edition tonight at 6:30 on KPBS television. Join us again tomorrow for discussions on San Diego's top stories on Midday Edition at noon on KPBS FM. I am Maureen Cavanaugh and thank you for listening.