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March 20, 2013

A public art ‘intervention’

sparkly aircraft
An 18-foot-long rhinestone-covered piece inspired by a Predator drone is part of the exhibition Home Drone, on display at the University of Massachusetts Amherst through March 26.

An 18-foot-long rhinestone-covered replica of a U.S. Predator drone is the center of new multimedia art exhibit.

Home Drone, which was created by Heather Layton, an internationally known social intervention artist and senior lecturer at the University, and Brian Bailey, a professor of adolescence education with a focus on social justice at Nazareth College, is designed to challenge viewers to imagine their reaction if thousands of deadly drones had struck in the United States rather than in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. The exhibition is at the Hampden Gallery at University of Massachusetts Amherst through March 26.

Layton and Bailey, who were named “citizen diplomats” by the U.S. Department of State in 2012, have previously created art installations designed to challenge assumptions about urban gun violence, fears of other cultures, and the prevalence of consumer culture and self-absorption.

“Starting in 2004, the United States government has sent fleets of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, over northern Pakistan to deploy “Hellfire missiles” at suspected terrorists,” says Layton. “But if we can send missiles through the skies of an independent country with the explanation that we are only killing those who are planning to fight against us, what should prevent another country from sending unmanned aerial vehicles into United States airspace to kill those who might be planning to fight against them? This is what Home Drone explores.”

woman gluing sequinsHeather Layton works on the rhinestone-covered Predator drone replica that is the centerpiece of Home Drone.

In addition to increasing social awareness about the controversial issue, Layton hopes the exhibit will help promote a cultural understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan and help cultivate peaceful relationships between individuals, regardless of religion, gender, socioeconomic status, age, nationality, and culture.

The exhibit includes videos of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debating drone strikes, videos of civilians protesting the strikes, and a wall-sized map of the drone attack sites superimposed over a drawing of Massachusetts, beginning with the site of the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

“After visiting Pakistan this topic became particularly important to us as we started to realize these drones are attacking people we now consider our friends,” says Layton. Last year, she and Bailey traveled to the University of Karachi in Pakistan to deliver a keynote address at a conference, “Social Intervention 2012: A Better Tomorrow for the Coming Generation.” While there, they also helped launch a youth film festival and installed an interactive art exhibition.

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