Journalism Students Visit Whitney Museum

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By Daina Potter ’17

The twin towers came down on September 11, 2001. Women, men, and children watched as the thick black smoke engulfed the skyscrapers. Then you switch to American soldiers interrogating Muslims about their connection to Al Qaeda. What’s the connection?

The Astro Noise exhibit by Laura Poitras; it is being held at the Whitney museum until May 1. The exhibit is about the American government and surveillance of not only possible terrorists but United States citizens.

Laura Poitras is a journalist, filmmaker, producer, and artist. She recently created a movie called Citizenfour. It features the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who revealed the government’s illegal surveillance of people. Laura Poitras was even surveillanced because she filmed incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq. It took her ten years to find out she was being watched.

“I was really surprised to learn the government surveilled her. I didn’t believe it at first,” said Jade Stephen ’17. “ It makes me wonder are they trying to keep us in line?”

Journalism students traveled to see the exhibit on March 29. It was closed to the public so they really got the chance to reflect. Reflection was the  key point while going through her interactive exhibit.

There are four parts to the exhibit. They each tie together in this creative and chilling way.

The first part is this big and dark open room. A large screen hangs from the wall by two strands. As soon as you walk in, a video is playing of Americans watching the twin towers fall followed by people listening to the national anthem at a baseball game. On the other side, it shows American soldiers. They are interrogating Muslims about Al Qaeda and whether or not they are involved. The men being interrogated didn’t look dangerous, they looked vulnerable.

The second part is called Bed down. It is a phrase the military uses for watching someone where they sleep. In this room, there is a large square bed. When you lay on it and look up, you see  stars and the beautiful night sky. An occasional drone sound can be heard in the background, but overall it’s calm.  What was unknown was the fact that we were being watched. Our heat signatures were being tracked.

The third part was a series of small windows.  They contain three things: leaked documents about the government’s surveillance, videos of soldiers, and images from drones. You had to press your face against the wall in order to see inside.

Stephen ’17 said,“I almost felt like I wasn’t supposed to see anything in the third part. The small windows made me feel like an outsider looking in.”

The fourth and final part was actual, unedited footage Laura Poitras herself gathered in Pakistan. She was staying with a Pakistani doctor’s family.

On November 19, 2004 American soldiers raided a Mosque in the village, where she was staying. The next day, there was shootout between American soldiers and rebels. She recorded the family’s reaction to the shooting. The older members were sick of the soldiers and the children were happy they didn’t go to school that day.

The exhibit ended there. Even though the exhibit was four parts, it left many shocked.

“It was alarming how it was possible to be watched without you knowing. Government surveillance is scary and it makes you question if it is for our best interest,” said Tiffany Chea ’17.

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