Thoughtworks Arts


Suppressed Images: Advocating for Chelsea Manning's Release

Posted by the Thoughtworks Arts Team
Wednesday, 18 January 2017

In the weeks leading up to yesterday’s spectacular announcement of the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence, Chelsea was collaborating with resident artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg and illustrator Shoili Kanungo on a graphic short story.

Two hand-inked cartoon faces above the title: “Suppressed Images”
The title pane of ‘Suppressed Images’

The story documents the process by which, in 2015, Heather created a unique portrait of Manning from a sample of DNA, giving a form visibility back to the whistleblower who had been hidden in incarceration for years.

The final pane of the graphic story was a speculative twist in which Manning was freed—a twist that has now come true.

This collaboration was not planned from the beginning of the residency. It came about slowly as political events unfolded and connections were made.

At the beginning of her residency, Heather presented her work over a conference call to an audience of global Thoughtworks employees. Shoili Kanungo, a graphic designer and illustrator with Thoughtworks India, watched the call and got in touch to suggest a collaboration.

A pane from the story in which Heather contemplates a proposition from Paper Magazine to visualize Chelsea’s DNA
The first page of ‘Suppressed Images’

“She asked if she could help somehow and I started thinking about a graphic short story,” recalls Heather. “Time was short (this was less than a month ago) and we wanted to get something out before Obama left office.”

“I wrote an original draft of the narrative and sent that to Chelsea and to Shoili, along with some ideas of what the images might be. And then Chelsea really edited and rewrote and added lots of her own text, including rewriting the whole thing as a dialogue between the two of us.”

“I worked also with Shoili on interpreting these into images, and she did a really beautiful and original job on that. But it wasn’t easy! Shoili is in India, and Chelsea can only communicate through the mail and through a liaison, and we’re working on such a tight time-frame, so it was really intense.”

The work was published online and began circulating just a few days before the announcement came from the White House.

The full graphic story is available on

Keep on top of Thoughtworks Arts updates and articles: