Lawrence Abu Hamdan attempts to reconstruct the conditions in which prisoners lived at Syria’s Saydnaya prison by using recorded testimonials.
Using his expertise in sound and architecture, Abu Hamdan attempted to reconstruct the psycho-physical conditions in which prisoners lived at Saydnaya by using recorded testimonials. The exhibition, installed in a large room divided into two sections, features a recording of an Amnesty International interview with a former detainee, Salam Othman, broadcast across the space, and renderings of the prison projected onto the walls.
Political analysts have noted that 2011 was a pivotal year for Al-Assad’s regime. With the protests occurring across Syria, he became increasingly suspicious of disloyal behavior and radicalized his treatment of prisoners. According to detainees at Saydnaya, the noise level dropped significantly and torture was implemented much more aggressively. Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the exhibition is the juxtaposition of Othman’s broadcast testimony with the architectural renderings. With no documentation of the prison available to the outside world, it is extremely difficult for any outsider to comprehend what goes on inside. Abu Hamdan worked with a digital visualization tool used in architecture to map sound leakages in a structure. In this case, the sound is evidence of life, of activity. It functions as a form of spatial mapping: through the acoustic depths of the detainees’ memories, Abu Hamdan approximates the prison’s interior.
Yet his aim is not simply to produce architectural renderings of Saydnaya. Since sound within the prison is evidence of trauma, pain, and torture, the renderings function as trauma-architecture or pain-projections. Viewers are presented with aesthetically intricate renderings that, at first glance, appear to be straightforward architectural plans. Abu Hamdan effectively politicizes the spatial renderings. Whereas a curved wall might give some indication of how sound travels in a structure, it here refers to the sound of trauma across the prison. The memories that inform Abu Hamdan’s renderings are blurry not because of their distance in time, but because detainees have been systematically silenced by those in power. Mediated speech becomes the only remaining document of experiences that evade or perhaps refuse representation.