“The X-Ray Project: Inside Terrorism” is artist Diane Covert’s response to the war on terror. In her exhibit, which recently ran in New Hampshire and may return in the fall, Covert displays X-rays from the two largest hospitals in Israel. All the images are of people who were involved in terrorism attacks.
In the X-rays you can see the results of these attacks. One person has a nail lodged in his/her neck while another person has multiple hex nuts in the hip. It is graphic without being disturbing, which was Covert’s intention.
She came to the project from two roads in her past. First, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in documentary photography, which is why she knew the history of photography and why she wanted to show images in which light actually penetrates the subject, like an X-ray. She was also inspired by Mathew Brady, who recorded battle images of the Civil War.
But Covert’s war involved terrorism. Following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, she did not like the way many in the media responded.
“I listened to a lot of NPR [National Public Radio],” Covert said. “And they kept asking, ‘Why do they hate us? What have we done?’”
These questions irked Covert, who, as a social worker, had seen many battered women come to the same rationalizations — If I hadn’t burned dinner, he wouldn’t have hit me. Covert said these protective defense mechanisms blame the victim. But in both cases it is not the victim’s fault.
“The answer is: no one deserves to be treated this way,” Covert said.
She also said people have a fascination with the lives and ideology behind terrorists, which she understands because being willing to kill yourself for something is a foreign concept to many of us. But she didn’t want people to romanticize these deeds and so she wanted to show the truth.
She thought first of showing traditional photographs of terrorist attacks — a blown-up café at rush hour. But she said 99 percent of people cannot bear to look at these images. They’re too violent.
That was when she thought of using X-rays. It allows the audience to control its distance from the tragedy. A kindergarten teacher could show her class and remain on the surface, while a doctor looks at the X-rays and feels more emotion because of all the background knowledge.
In the beginning she wanted to use X-rays from the Sept. 11 attacks but there are virtually none because the majority of victims died. She then wanted to use X-rays from other parts of the world, but so many areas that experience terrorist attacks are poor and don’t have advanced medicine — as a result, victims die, and they don’t take X-rays of dead people.
Eventually, Covert spent two years cultivating contacts with the two largest hospitals in Jerusalem. She said Jerusalem is an international city and so the victims represented in the X-rays are a wide range of race, gender, and from all walks of life. In her exhibit, the people are also intentionally anonymous because they could be any of us, which highlights terrorism’s randomness.
Covert, who lives just north of Boston, hopes her project adds to the public outcry against terrorism. She said terrorism as it operates today is a relatively new concept, started by the Tamil Tigers in the 1980s.
“War is forever,” Covert admitted. “I don’t feel I can contribute to it. But terrorism, if we shun it and reject it, I believe we can stop it.”
Check out www.x-rayproject.org to see when the exhibit will next be in New Hampshire.