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A Simple Case for Torture, or How to Sleep at Night, 1983

A Simple Case for Torture, or How to Sleep at Night is a video montage in which Rosler shows images from the article ‘The Case for Torture’ by Michael Levin, published in Newsweek magazine on 7 June 1982. Rosler deconstructs Levin’s logic and condemns torture as a mechanism of power, making reference to the body on which revenge is wreaked and the relationship between truth and power. She questions the conventional understanding of terrorism and torture and exposes the violence perpetrated by the U.S.A. in El Salvador and the whole of Latin America by including images from articles that address issues such as human rights, the world economy and unemployment, accompanied by a voiceover in which she meditates on her own political stance. The title is an ironic comment on the continuing lack of social awareness regarding torture, a fact that is connected with the totally clear conscience of those who can sleep at night.

The artist Martha Rosler (New York City, 1943) trained at Brooklyn College in New York and at the University of California. While still in New York, she became involved in avant-garde poetry and the New Left, campaigning for civil liberties. Her move to California coincided with the rise of the feminist movement, which influenced her social conscience and artistic practice, as exemplified by her series Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain (1966–72), in which she questions the portrayal of women in art and advertising. On her return to New York, Rosler made Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), a video performance in which she demonstrates her interest in political activism and the female condition, two subjects that appear throughout her works which, combined with Pop culture, emerge in the form of critical and parodic discourses.

As a member of the Pop Art movement, she was able to draw attention to the seductive techniques employed by the media to promote a more consumerist lifestyle. In addition, this movement enabled her to highlight the problems of its logics of reproduction. First and foremost, however, Rosler was one of the forerunners of feminist video art, in which she also addresses issues such as immigration, exploitation in the workplace and the influence of the United States on the dictatorial regimes in Latin America. Her work has been shown in Documenta 12 (2007) in Kassel, the Havana Biennial and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, among numerous other places. In 1999, the MACBA held Rosler’s first major survey exhibition in Spain.

Technical details

Original title:
A Simple Case for Torture, or How to Sleep at Night
Registration number:
Rosler, Martha
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council long-term
Object type:
Audiovisual recording
Single-channel video, color, sound, 61 min 50 s
MACBA Collection. Barcelona City Council long-term loan
© Martha Rosler
It has accessibility resources:

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