Laurie Toby Edison


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Legos, Torture, And Abu Ghraib

Laurie says:

I’ve been thinking for quite a while about the effect of the consent and the toleration of torture that happened in this country after 9/11. This has also been true at other times but I want to talk about now.

I was pointed at these images of Abu Ghraib recently and was really powerfully affected by them.

Wired says: Flickr user Legofesto (who prefers to remain anonymous) was fed up with news outlets refusing to publish images depicting torture due to their graphic nature. So he recreated the images and first-hand accounts using Legos to protest what he saw as irresponsible censorship.

I’m clearly not the only one so affected and it made me realized just how powerfully internalized the torture images from Abu Ghraib have become. You don’t need to have internalized the photos to be moved by Botero’s paintings but these are yellow legos with painted faces.

I’ve felt from the beginning that acceptance of torture makes your relationship with your own body more tenuous. And I’ve been trying to understand why.

I’m thinking that it’s about who owns your body. Most of us believe that we own our bodies and our body’s integrity is an integral part of who we are. Women in the US have only owned their bodies for 36 years (Roe v Wade), and in some places are not secure in that right. But I do think that we believe we own our bodies. Torture is an extremely direct attack on that idea. It is a demonstration of ownership with the intent to degrade and destroy the body. It’s about confirming the torturers’ beliefs, not about the truth.

I think that one of the effects of this acceptance of torture in the last eight years is that, however unconsciously, we have internalized some sense of the lack of ownership of our bodies. This is obviously complicated in the way it ties it to all the other ways we feel about our bodies, and I’m not sure where that leaves us.

And I’m still thinking about all of this.

10 Responses to “Legos, Torture, And Abu Ghraib”

  1. Pegkitty says:

    Just a note – Roe v. Wade is 36 years ago, not 26.

  2. Laurie Toby Edison says:


    Fixed. Thanks. Some people can’t subtract late at night.

  3. mccn says:

    Your works spoke powerfully to me. I do believe I own my body. But in part because I’m a woman and in part because I have been sexually assaulted, I also believe that it can be taken from me, that I can lose it. And what you said about torture resonates with that idea.

  4. laurie toby edison says:


    Thank you for your comment. I think you made an important point.

  5. Stefanie says:

    Many years ago, at an exhibit about art responding to genocide, an artist showed a series he (IIRC) had designed of Lego concentration camp scenes. He built the whole kits, including replica boxes, as though they were available for sale. They were witheringly powerful– the interchangability and consumer-orientation of Legos being brought to bear on the de-personalized, industrialized atrocity of the Holocaust. The same issues apply here, I think.

  6. Stefanie says:

    Sorry to be so general about the piece– I can track down more details if you like. I remember that the artist was Polish, and that it was for an exhibit put together by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the U of Minn.

  7. Laurie says:


    I think your point about the interchangeability and consumer-orientation of Legos and the implications is very right.

    I’d very be interested in the details of the holocaust piece.


  8. Stefanie says:

    Before you click, be aware that the images deserve a big fat TRIGGER WARNING. They are brutal.

    The artist is Zbigniew Libera. Here is a link with photos and an artist’s statement (I think you can click around and see other artists from the Center’s collection there too):

    Libera did a mental hospital, Stalin’s prison, and concentration camps from World War II and Bosnia. It looks like he also has done another exhibit called Eroica, from which I will just excerpt the statement because I think it’s remarkable:

    “Eroica, is a four-boxed set of toy soldier-sized women figures. They are based on classical models. They are a reminder that in the 1990s no toy soldier set is complete without the inclusion of women, who have become the special targets of victimization in genocidal settings such as Bosnia, where rape camps have been well documented. Such is the fashion of “heroic” actions of armies in genocidal and even less violent encounters where women are victims.”

  9. Stefanie says:

    Oh, and the specific exhibit in MN was called “Absence/Presence.” Here’s a link:

    It entailed art and also there was some historical content as well, I think, though I can’t seem to see that part of it mentioned online. I do know for sure that my sweetie presented a paper on eugenics in MN as part of that exhibit’s events.

  10. Laurie says:


    Thanks very much!

    I’m away, so I’m giong to wait til I can look at the exhibit with time, quietly on my home computer.

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