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Instruments of Torture

SDMOM Takes A New Approach To Exhibit

The new and very different Instruments of Torture exhibit at the San Diego Mu...

Credit: SDMOM

Above: The new and very different Instruments of Torture exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Man. It opened in July and is scheduled through the end of the year.

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The San Diego Museum of Man had an exhibit on torture in 2000 but the new Instruments of Torture that opened in July takes a very different approach to looking at a very dark side of human nature.

The San Diego Museum of Man takes a look at the darker side of human nature with its new exhibit, Instruments of Torture featuring implements from the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, including the Iron Maiden, the Rack, a Chastity Belt, and a Guillotine. All of the artifacts come from the Museum of Torture in Italy. The two museums collaborated on a similar exhibit back in 2000 but that exhibit presented the items in a kind of dark, haunted house settings and did not place it in a larger context.

All that has changed for this new exhibit. People may think of torture as a historical artifact, something that happened centuries ago but the museum places these old instruments of torture in a post 9/11 and post Abu Ghraib context to point out that torture still exists.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks at how the new Instruments of Torture differs from the 2000 exhibit on torture.


Kathi Anderson is the executive director of the Survivors of Torture International. She says, "Prior to 9/11 we as Americans always said torture is horrible and that is not a value of our country, it is not part of who we are, it's not our character. We're always proud of that, hands down. But then 9/11 happened and there were conversations, hmm, I wonder if torture is okay or not? What I have found in these conversations afterward is generally speaking that younger people are the ones thinking, hmm, I wonder if torture is okay? When I talk to older people, people from the World War II generation, it brings tears to their eyes, this is not the country I fought for where torture might be okay because it's never okay. They experienced some of that in the wars, and they understand the significance of it, and it's very real. We as an organization, our clients, we always say torture is never, ever okay."

Rex Garniewicz, COO of the SDMOM says in his blog, "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."

The museum is also urging people to take action with its "Don't Stand By. Stand Up" campaign.

Anderson says, "I think it's 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 a hundred and one 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 crossings."

The Instruments of Torture Exhibit will run at least through the end of the year.


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