Nick Waters and Curtis Wallen
A past which has never been present
June 17 - July 16, 2017

Opening reception:
Saturday, June 17

A past which has never been present is assembled from a series of documents surrounding the figure of Bana Alabed, a 7-year-old girl from Syria who received media attention following tweets—posted on her behalf by her mother Fatemah—from besieged Aleppo at the end of 2016. Widespread coverage by The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and other major outlets engendered sympathy, compassion, and urgency in many readers/viewers, but also sparked questions and doubts across the internet. In the age of “fake news,” internet hoaxes, and hyper-partisanship her story was leveraged for a variety of agendas across the political spectrum. Many mainstream outlets referred to Bana as the “Anne Frank of Syria” and in April 2017 she announced a book deal with Simon & Schuster for a memoir titled “Dear World.” Russian state news outlet Sputnik ran headlines like “Aleppo Twitter Girl Bana Is the 'Ultimate Propaganda Stunt’.” And Syrian President Bashar al-Assad referred to her in an interview as “a game of propaganda and media.”

Bana was evacuated from Aleppo in December of 2016. Prior to her evacuation, ex-British Army officer and open source analyst Nick Waters (in collaboration with image analyst Timmi Allen) released a report titled “Finding Bana – Proving the Existence of a 7-Year-Old Girl in Eastern Aleppo.” Using open source investigation and analysis Nick and Timmi were able to confirm the veracity of many facts related to Bana’s story. But questions still remain.

A past which has never been present was developed collaboratively between Nick Waters and artist Curtis Wallen, based on and inspired by Nick and Timmi’s investigation. The exhibition includes an Operational Navigation Chart of Syria, a series of videos produced by Bana and posted to social media, an NBC news segment featuring an interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and a series of screencasts outlining the steps Nick took to confirm Bana’s location in Aleppo using open source information and satellite imagery analysis.

Click here to listen to a conversation between Nick and Curtis about their collaboration.

Nick Waters is a contributor at Bellingcat where he has published analyses of air attacks on Syrian Red Crescent aid vehicles, chemical weapons attacks in al-Lataminah, water shortages in Damascus, and the use of weaponized drones by both ISIS and the Iraqi Federal Police.

For the past three years Curtis Wallen has been creating works within a larger project, You cannot block out the sun with the palm of your hand: Lessons Learned (1989 — ), that reflects on the West’s interventions in the Arab world. A past which has never been present examines the complex relationships in Bana’s story within the larger timeline of the Syrian civil war.