By Christopher Moloney, OutFront producer
Daisy Rockwell’s grandfather, Norman Rockwell, created some of the most iconic illustrations of American life.
Her uncle is a celebrated sculptor.
Her father built a giant pyramid – inspired by Hindu temples – lined with thousands of plastic action figures.
And she paints terrorists.
For the better part of the past decade, under the pseudonym “Lapata,” Daisy Rockwell has been creating images of terror suspects in unexpected poses.
In one piece, Mohamed Mahmood Alessa, a New Jersey man arrested for allegedly trying to join a terrorist group in Somalia, is cuddling his cat.
In another, Aafia Siddiqui, currently serving 86 years for attempting to kill U.S. nationals, is seen on her graduation day.
Rockwell told CNN the innocent-looking portraits – based on actual photographs of her subjects – were intentional and her way of “dismantling the aura of fear” that surrounds these people, to better understand their actions.
“We are supposed to think that those who wish America ill are motivated by evil and to not think any further than that,” says Rockwell. “(But America) has spent quite a bit of time meddling in the affairs of other countries. Whether we like it or not, there are plenty of reasons out there for people to wish us ill as a country.”
Rockwell has traveled extensively and holds a doctorate in South Asian literature, which she says, in retrospect, may have been her way of escaping the legacy of her family name.
“I started studying Hindi in college because I love learning languages,” she says. “I wanted to learn a language that was very unfamiliar to me, and I grew very interested in South Asian literature. It taught me a great deal about perspectives I was unfamiliar with.”
These new perspectives feature prominently in her latest book, “The Little Book of Terror,” a collection of her essays and paintings about terrorism.
Divided into five sections, the book includes paintings of people whose names you know (Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein), and some you might not (Jalaluddin Haqqani and Ilyas Kashmiri).
Rockwell considers her process an “interaction” with the people she paints and occasionally changes her opinion about them.
“When you look that closely at someone, you almost always develop sympathy for them,” Rockwell says. “It's like sitting next to someone for a long bus ride. … I want to think about who these people are and why they made the choices they did. I want to share the results of my thoughts, which are my paintings, with other people.”
She was particularly inspired to paint bin Laden.
“We take for granted who he was and what he did and why, and stop thinking of him as a human being with profoundly human motivations. The war on terror is quite bizarre, when you think about it, because it's a war on an emotion - fear. At least, that is what we are told. Instead of just being at war, we are trying to stamp out fear itself.”
Still, for the all the time she’s spent thinking about (and painting) terrorism, she considers global warming the “most overwhelming problem we face.”
“(Global warming) will ultimately destroy our human habitat,” she says. “At that point, throwing bombs at each other and arguing about birth control will be moot points.”
What do you think of Daisy Rockwell’s work? Do you agree that the war on terror is a “war on an emotion”? Is global warming the “most overwhelming problem we face”?