What Happens When Chelsea Manning's DNA Becomes An Artist's Material?

Pricilla Frank, Huffington Post, July 6, 2017

As an artist and a scientist, Heather Dewey-Hagborg is used to questioning where science and technology are headed and how their trajectories might affect our lives.


“Making people uncomfortable is really squarely the point of my work,” she wrote in an email to HuffPost. For example, her project “Stranger Visions” consists of a series of portraits based solely on human DNA she’d gathered from discarded items found in New York City ― think: hair, cigarettes, gum.


Most recently, Dewey-Hagborg has been collaborating with a rather unlikely partner: Chelsea Manning. Together, they’ve created a series of “portrait masks” derived from Manning’s DNA, retrieved while she was incarcerated and undergoing hormone replacement therapy.


“I guess [they’re] a bit creepy on purpose,” she explained of the portraits, on view this August at Fridman Gallery in New York City. “But hopefully a creepiness that provokes cultural reflection.”

As much of the world knows by now, Manning shot to fame in 2013 after she published thousands of secret documents related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on Wikileaks, unveiling disturbing accounts of torture and abuse by U.S. soldiers. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, the longest sentence ever handed down to a government whistleblower.