On Tuesday, President Obama largely commuted Chelsea Manning's remaining prison sentence, effectively freeing the whistleblower. In the waning days of the Obama administration, a last chance for clemency before a more hostile administration takes over, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Manning, along with illustrator Shoili Kanungo, released a graphic short story called Suppressed Images, documenting Dewey-Hagborg and Manning’s collaboration on the 2015 artwork Radical Love, a pair of 3D printed portraits, created with Manning's DNA.
Radical Love was commissioned by Paper magazine, who enlisted Dewey-Hagborg to create artwork for an interview the magazine was conducting with Manning. Since photographing the whistleblower is impossible while she is imprisoned, Dewey-Hagborg employed DNA phenotyping, a process by which an artist puts clues about a person’s genetic traits together to create a composite representation. Manning collected her own hair clippings and cheek swab and mailed the DNA samples to Dewey-Hagborg, who created the composites. Because much of DNA phenotyping is based on guesswork or stereotyping based on ancestry and sex, Dewey-Hagborg chose two of the most compelling possible faces, one gender neutral and one feminine, with Manning’s input.
Suppressed Images takes readers behind the scenes of the Radical Love creative process, laying out some details of Manning’s incarceration and communicating Manning’s interest in working with Dewey-Hagborg to reclaim some of the visibility stripped from her while behind bars.
It was Kanungo who contacted Dewey-Hagborg about the collaboration that would become Suppressed Images. “[Kanunugo] saw my artist talk online that I gave as an artist-in-residence at Thoughtworks, who she works for in India,” Dewey-Hagborg tells The Creators Project. “She asked if she could help somehow and I started thinking about a graphic short story.”
“Time was short (this was less than a month ago) and we wanted to get something out before Obama left office,” she adds. “I wrote a first draft based on my letters and communication with Chelsea over the past two years and mailed it to her. She recited her edits over the phone to her support liaison who emailed them to me.”
Dewey-Hagborg then forwarded the edited comic script—which featured Manning’s very own words—to Kanungo, who began illustrating. The artists credits Thoughtworks with being incredibly supportive during the artistic process. And Dewey-Hagborg says that Manning is as hopeful, upbeat, and optimistic as she has always known her to be.
“[She is] such an inspiration,” says Dewey-Hagborg. “I am extremely hopeful after the news of Chelsea making Obama’s ‘shortlist.’ I think Obama will do the humane thing and commute her sentence to time served.”