Webster alum involved with Wikileaks portrays whistleblower trial in art

The Hunt Gallery exhibit depicts courtroom drawing of Chelsea Manning's court martial / Photo by Jordan Palmer
The Hunt Gallery exhibit depicts courtroom drawing of Chelsea Manning’s court martial / Photo by Jordan Palmer

After graduating from Webster University, artist and activist Clark Stoeckley worked with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  He was arrested during protests and later, was involved with the non-profit Wikileaks. Now, his courtroom drawings of the trial for whistleblower Chelsea Manning are displayed in the Hunt Gallery through Dec. 10.

The opening reception of Clark Stoeckley: The U.S. vs. Private Chelsea Manning  was held on Nov. 4 in the Hunt Gallery. The artist was available to talk via Skype from Kuwait, where he recently accepted a job. 

Stoeckley graduated from Webster University with his BFA in Alternative Media.  He later moved to New York to receive his MFA in Performance and Interactive Media Art from Brooklyn College.

Jeffrey Hughes, the Hunt Gallery director, said Stoeckley’s passion for the topic comes from his belief that art can be a form of political activism.

Stoeckley did a series of pieces called the “Wiki Truck” while he was working for Wikileaks.  He said this directly contributed to his interest in and compassion for Private Chelsea Manning.

Manning released a number of state department cables and videos documenting the killing of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, aiming to reveal to the world what she saw as crimes committed by the U.S. military. She was later convicted of 21 charges, including several for espionage.

Since Manning was tried in a court martial, the proceedings were mostly closed off to the media. Stoeckley realized that as an artist, he had an opportunity to show the public what was happening in the courtroom.

“In some ways it is an expressionistic look at the overall court proceedings but also it is a true document of the court proceedings of Chelsea Manning’s trial,” Hughes said.

During the opening reception, Stoeckley spoke at length via Skype about his concerns for freedom of information and his political views, specifically about the upcoming election. Wikileaks released emails sent between members of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff shortly before Election Day.

“I could not have foreseen that the issue of WikiLeaks was going to have such an enormous bearing on the course of recent American history,” Hughes said.

Hughes said he is convinced Wikileaks influenced the election results, but still sees the merit of their actions.

“Personally, I find the question of Chelsea Manning difficult when it turns into state secrets,” Hughes said. “How are the American people going to know otherwise?”

Manning has spent six years in prison and will most likely serve her full thirty-five year sentence. She has protested her treatment as a transgender woman in prison and attempted suicide shortly before the gallery opening.

Hughes said he hopes this exhibition would inspire students to research the issue itself, find out what WikiLeaks is, what Manning released and how that may have shifted our attitudes about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Junior printmaking major Alex Owens said she was fascinated with the topic herself since learning of the trial through Stoeckley’s exhibition.

“He [Stoeckley] went in and drew these images as he was in the court case, so that’s what I find fascinating about it,” Owens said.

During the Skype call, Stoeckley said he took only one drawing class when he went to Webster and was not familiar with drawing faces.

Hughes said in most exhibitions, works may be visually pleasant and aesthetically appealing, but ideally art should engender thought.

“The exhibitions hopefully will inspire people to have a greater dialogue, a greater conversation,” Hughes said.

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