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UNC graduate Chris Sims displays Guantanamo Bay artwork in Davis Library

For the first time in years, the first-floor gallery of Davis Library has a new exhibit on display: "Guantanamo Bay and The Library at Camp Delta." 

The collection, which features a series of photographs of the infamous detention center in Cuba, opened on Wednesday with a lecture by the exhibit's photographer, Chris Sims.

Sims, who received his Master of Arts degree from UNC's School of Media and Journalism in 2003 and now works as the undergraduate educator director at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, photographed Guantanamo Bay in 2006 and 2010 after four years of requesting access — and being denied — 16 times. 

Sims said the exhibit was inspired by his curiosity of the detention center.

“I was animated by the simple question: 'What does Guantanamo Bay look like?'” Sims said during his lecture on the second floor of Davis Library.

Because it was impractical to photograph people at the detention center, Sims chose to photograph just the physical space. The exhibit features images he selected in two sets — one focusing on the prisoners' library and the other on general working and living spaces in the camp.

At the beginning of his lecture, Sims used the Liquid Galaxy display system to show people the camp’s proximity to the United States through Google Earth.

Sims said he photographed the library as a way to make people think things they might have common with people who use the prisoners' library.

Some of the books next to the exhibit that are part of the different area studies collection are almost identical to the ones in the photographs, Sims said. 

Peggy Myers, the director of library development, who also helped coordinate the exhibit, said the timing of the show is incredibly lucky.

“(The exhibit) coincides with the pope’s visit to Cuba and Raul Castro’s address," she said.

Myers also said the exhibit is not intended to portray a specific political view. 

“We had no agenda at all except to present something that would educate and stimulate people,” she said.

Henry Schoenhoff, a first-year journalism major, said he thinks the exhibit is a great way to expose people to the United States' involvement overseas in a unique way.

Dylan White, who works at Internationalist Books & Community Center in Carrboro and attended the exhibit’s opening, said he thinks the exhibit was impressive, but complicated.

“It brings up the age-old tension of beautifying something that is inherently very not beautiful — the detention and torture of people.”

The images in the exhibit include things like a partially-decorated Christmas tree shoved into a corner and a portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging in a mess hall.

“I was really interested in seeing the most ordinary spaces," Sims said.

“I think when we’re always thinking of the most extreme of something, it can sort of distance us from it," he said. 

"The more ordinary spaces show us a side that is more familiar. That sort of challenges us to think that this place is not completely separate from us.”

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