Two weeks ago an art project was unveiled in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, a gigantic 96-or-so foot portrait of a young girl. The vinyl poster was laid out on a field, so the only clear viewing of it was from the air, say where a drone might fly. The girl has not been identified, though is believed to be a survivor whose parents and younger sibling were killed in a drone strike.
The project is collectively called “Not a Bug Splat”, and several artists have collaborated on it most notably JR, the French artist who was given a TED prize in 2011 who has roots in gorilla street art and using the “world as his gallery”.
The work is not a call to change policies on drone strikes, or to be anti-American, it’s simply a powerful gesture to share the perspective of those without a voice. There is wide-spread damage from drone warfare, and it includes innocent human lives.
As any strong artwork will do, this particular piece peaked my curiosity. War is messy: always was, always will be. Innocence will be blinded in the face of a mission that sees ideals over empathy and commands over compassion. War is as old as sex, and yes both can be waged directly and without permission. Drone warfare has been a troublesome invention, as it has created an antiseptic response to the civilian casualties of war. From the thousand-foot aerial view, the humans running around homes before a strike become known technically as “bug splats”. The distance is profound.
Here in the US there is chatter about drones and how wonderful this technology is. The media is busy painting a picture of the consumer and the capitalist dreaming of the day they can have their tacos and beer delivered to their door by a drone. I dislike being a Cassandra, but I rue the day that little unmanned planes can share the sky in my neighborhood, especially given the twisted cinema and school shootings of the recent past. And my guess is that drone operators for Domino’s Pizza might be paid minimum wage, and might enjoy taking their impossible salary to task with their new anonymous power.
So out there in a field in the heavily bombed area of Northwest Pakistan is a generous reminder to drone operators to look twice and carefully before a strike. It’s important to note that there have not been drone strikes there since December of last year. However, it’s also important to note that there is absolutely no regulation of drones anywhere in the world right now. My three cents – drones for delivering medicine to remote villages YES. Drones for areas considered civilian and combat zones NO.