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The Naked Truth

John Douglas' art aims to expose "Homeland Security"


Published June 30, 2004 at 4:00 a.m.

John Douglas describes his profession as "truth activist." The Charlotte multimedia artist creates animations, documentaries and photographs that question the heightened polarity in contemporary American politics and social attitudes. While other peace advocates might take a more distant and critical approach, Douglas does the opposite: using himself -- posed and exposed -- at the subject of his compositions.

In his current work, a series of photographs entitled "Homeland Security," Douglas takes a literal approach to expressing the foolishness of the rubric "naked power" -- he appears in the nude, holding an M16. The prosaic domestic settings for his tableaux -- a shed, a swimming pool, a trailer home -- offer a disturbing portrait of our acute national sense of isolation and vulnerability.

For Douglas, the M16 is "a symbol of Vietnam and the kind of awareness of American military activity the public began to have at that time," he says. The metaphor suggests that an uneasy, "go it alone" foreign policy may be the result of delusional self-perception or the unexamined surrender of individual thought.

"I wanted to better understand what people felt when they hold this weapon," he suggests. "I wouldn't have gotten involved with any of this had Bush not raised the question for me: Why this continued violence, this extreme violence? There's a great line in the Presidential debates where he talks about us as a peaceful country. But there's been nothing but these guns since then. It's the same with the Abu Ghraib torture. That's who these people are."

By casting himself a citizen-soldier, multiply exposed, Douglas suggests that the line between "these people" and the rest of us is a lot blurrier than we might want to think.