Current weather

San Diego, CA
53.6 °F

Torture exhibition at the Museum of Man

In San Diego, it sometimes feels like we couldn’t be more detached from torture and other gross human rights violations. Every once in a while we may see a documentary or hear a story about a woman who fled horrific abuse in a place like the Congo, but it all seems so far away -- and it can’t be that common, not now, right?

On Saturday, the San Diego Museum of Man opened a new exhibition on torture with rare artifacts from Italy’s Museo della Tortura.

Torture exhibition

There’s the interrogation chair, the rack, the convict’s wheelbarrow, and the iron maiden (pictured below).

Torture exhibition

But “Instruments of Torture” is not the same kind of show that SDMOM hosted years ago, when it was so gruesome that people fainted in the galleries, as COO Rex Garniewicz explains in the museum’s blog. Rather, SDMOM acknowledges that torture isn’t just a spectacle of the Middle Ages and horror films. The exhibition is designed to serve as a gateway for people to learn about contemporary human rights issues and their relevance to San Diego.

Torture exhibition

A major destination for refugee resettlement, San Diego is home to thousands of torture survivors from all over the world. They’ve come here as refugees and asylum-seekers from countries such as Iran, Somalia, Burma, and El Salvador. Whether because of their religion, their sexual orientation, political affiliation, or other reasons, they have undergone horrific physical and/or emotional abuse at the hands of other humans.

The museum’s exhibition highlights this reality using informative panels developed in collaboration with nonprofits such as Survivors of Torture, International (SURVIVORS), a San Diego-based organization that provides health and mental health services to help survivors heal and become healthy, productive citizens.

Torture exhibition

The exhibition further explores the psychology behind torture and the policies that must be in place to stop it from happening as it did at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It’s hard to believe that the photos from Abu Ghraib came out in 2004; today’s 18-year-old recruits would have been 10 at the time.

“Research shows us and history shows us that, time and time again, when certain circumstances are present we humans will torture. Even when we know better and know it’s not right,” said SDMOM Director Dr. Micah Parzen during Friday’s opening tour of the exhibition.

“The exhibition is about our capacity as human beings to tap into our dark and deep demons or to rise above those in a way that puts a nice foot forward for humanity.”

For “Instruments of Torture” ticket prices and hours, visit the SDMOM website,, or call (619) 239-2001. Discounts apply for students, seniors, military and members. Children under 13 will not be admitted without a parent or guardian.


--Maren Dougherty