New York artist creates 3D portraits from Chelsea Manning’s DNA

ROUGH CUT ( NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Thirty three-dimensional portraits of Chelsea Manning, created using the DNA of the transgender U.S. Army soldier imprisoned for leaking classified data, will welcome visitors to an art exhibition opening in New York City next month. The images were produced by New York artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg based on a range of possible facial variations generated by software that analyzed samples sent to her by Manning from behind bars. The intelligence analyst Manning, 29, was released in May from a U.S. military prison in Kansas where she had been serving time for passing secrets to the WikiLeaks website in the biggest breach of classified data in the history of the United States. Other than one grainy photo provided by the U.S. Army, the public saw no photos of Manning as a woman while she was in custody – something Dewey-Hagborg told Reuters she wanted to correct. “Chelsea had been denied a public face. Her image had been suppressed, and I was hoping that I could use this DNA to give her that public face back, so to give her a presence,” said Dewey-Hagborg. In some of the portraits that will be hung from the ceiling at the Fridman Gallery in Manhattan Manning is seen with different color eyes or skin tone. She seems more masculine in some of the depictions, and in others more feminine. “Usually the first thing people look at is genetic sex, and we decided together to deem that not worthy of analyzing. We decided…that’s a decision that someone should make for themselves, that we would side with self-determined identity,” said Dewey-Hagborg. The project began when PAPER Magazine contacted the artist to ask whether she could create an image to accompany a feature profile of Manning. Dewey-Hagborg, who has previously created art pieces produced using DNA samples, worked with Manning for more than two years on the project. The artist said she was able to create the DNA profile of Manning from hair and cheek swab samples that were taken and mailed to her while Manning was serving time in Fort Leavenworth prison. Dewey-Hagborg said she found the former soldier to be optimistic and “incredibly brave” during all of their interactions. Manning said she trusted the artist and gave her free reign to produce the images, according to Dewey-Hagborg, asking only that the artist did not make her appear too masculine. Dewey-Hagborg said the exhibition was meant to show that DNA does not necessarily tell you what gender a person is. “I’m really hoping that people will leave thinking about how much is not determined by our genetics, about really how open our possibilities are,” said Dewey-Hagborg. “We share so much in common and that our DNA is vastly similar, and that in a sense, on this kind of genetic level, we are all Chelsea Manning.” The artist said she hopes her work draws attention to the fact DNA-based imaging has yet to be perfected and technology claiming to produce accurate police mugshots from DNA is not yet an exact science and not ready to that kind of use. “A Becoming Resemblance” opens at the Fridman Gallery in New York on August 2.

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