Bradley Edward Manning is a USA soldier and was arrested in Iraq in 2010 for allegedly leaking diplomatic cables, videos and warlogs to Wikileaks. He was later convicted under the Espionage Act and other offenses and was sentenced to serve 35 years in military prison. The day he was sentenced he declared that he felt female since childhood, wanted to be known as Chelsea. He also wished for a hormone replacement therapy which would allegedly happen inside the prison cells and no one would be able to ever say who the real Chelsea Manning is.
The task was taken up by Chicago-based artist, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, with funding from the Victoria and Albert museum in London. They decided to use cutting edge DNA science to be able to visualize how Chelsea Manning would look.
Chelsea Manning’s DNA Samples were used to draw characteristic straits based on the DNA sequence. This technique is also used by the police to find the unknown suspects. These characteristics were then used to restructure a complete mask of Chelsea Manning, and then 3D Printed. The 2 life size mask is now at display at World Economic Forum in Davos.
Dewey-Hagborg told the Guardian that the purified DNA samples from Chelsea cheek swab were used to distil the soldier’s DNA sequencing into various areas of the genome that control physical traits such as eye color, hair coloring, freckles, and ancestry and so on. He further added “Feeding in those different parameters, I could generate random variations of Chelsea’s face within a prescribed typology,”
When Dewey-Hagborg was asked as to why he felt the urge to create such a controversial mask he said “She has been imprisoned and unable to be seen or visited for the duration of her gender transition. As long as she’s been identifying as Chelsea Manning we’ve been unable to see her, so there was poetry to making visible the invisible.”
He personally has been a critique of the forensic DNA phenotyping and wanted to use the technology to see whether it works. He added that it’s “really good at examining the convergence of art, science and technology”.
The 2 masks that are at display at davos are not the same. In one mask the Genger Gnome was switched to neutral which means it shows both the masculine and feminine characteristics and the second mask has stronger female characteristics.
The irony of this art piece is that neither the creator nor the subject has yet seen them. Chelsea Manning is locked up in some cell in America and Dewey-Hagborg could not see the final prints as he said “The faces were 3D-printed and shipped from London directly to Switzerland the artist said. Tickets for the World Economic Forum are reserved for world leaders, and I wasn’t invited.”