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“In Saydnaya, the architecture of the prison emerges not only as a location of torture but itself as an instrument in its perpetration”.
Although there are no images of Saydnaya, there are testimonies of the survivors from this Syrian torture prison. Using spatial imagery, computer architectural and acoustic modeling, the interdisciplinary team of Forensic Architecture along with Amnesty International collaborated with five former detainees to recreate a 3D model of the prison and their experiences in it, exposing the violations to human rights committed under the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Although Saydnaya’s architecture works as a weapon of torture, it can also be used to trigger the memories of the detainees. As Eyal Weizman, founder and director of Forensic Architecture, said in an interview with Pin Up Magazine,
“Architecture can be a kind of conduit, a mnemonic device, into memory. Because if you just ask somebody, “What happened to you in Saydnaya?”, the chances are they won’t recollect everything, because your psyche protects you from the most difficult memories. But when you reconstruct the architecture, sometimes repressed memories come back. Very mundane things can trigger them: you ask a detainee about the size of the floor tiles, and all of a sudden he remembers being pushed towards the back wall, and having to stand no more than two floor tiles from it while being hosed down with freezing-cold water in the middle of winter.”
As prisoners could barely see or talk, they developed an acute sense of sound that allowed them to compose mental images based on the sounds they heard: guard’s footsteps, a food bowl, beatings, and the terrifying resonances of wind announcing the cold storms that killed many people detained.
The result of this careful investigation is an interactive documentary where the viewers can navigate the 3D reconstruction of the prison by selecting a location or the stories related to one of the witnesses: Anas, Diab, Jamal, Salam, and Samer. In each space, there are objects and situations highlighted to take the user into a video that combines the process of the collaborative investigation between members of Forensic Architecture and each witness, with the intimate stories and audiovisual reconstructions. In the end, there is a call to action connected to a campaign by Amnesty International that aims to stop the horror in Syrian prisons.