Hank Willis Thomas’s bronze sculpture, “If the Leader Only Knew,” greets guests to the San José Museum of Art’s exhibition Barring Freedom. The sculpture is predicated on a photograph of prisoners at a Nazi focus camp, displaying arms gripping a barbed wire fence.

The Institute of the Arts and Sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York collaborated with the museum to placed on an artwork exhibition and on-line occasion collection about artwork, jail, and justice. The exhibit will proceed at the museum by March 2021, after which journey to John Jay College.

Levester Williams, “Tar Ball”

Other items in the present embrace Sadie Barnette’s “FBI Drawings: No Violence,” the place, with care, and drawings of tiny roses, she has reworked pages in the FBI surveillance file of her father, the founder of the Black Panther Party chapter in Compton, California. For his “Tar Ball,” Levester Williams wadded up soiled sheets from a Virginia penitentiary and dipped them in tar. “Flies and things are stuck in it, so it’s this very visceral piece,” stated curator Lauren Schell Dickens on a FaceTime tour of the exhibition. “It’s reminiscent of the iron balls historically used on chain gangs, so it links past manifestations of terror to our current systems.”

The black-and-white photographs of the Louisiana State Prison from Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun’s collection, Slavery: The Prison Industrial Complex, additionally underscore the hyperlink between the programs of slavery and incarceration. The collection, which the New Orleans-born artists have engaged on since 1980, reveals inmates of the jail, constructed on former cotton and sugarcane plantations, working the fields. 

Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, from Slavery: The Prison Industrial Complex

The concept to have artists tackle advanced points round the justice system took place after the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, a Black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. After the taking pictures, a US Department of Justice examine discovered racial bias in each division of the Ferguson Police Department, comparable to in use of power and visitors stops, in addition to racist emails being exchanged by officers on work hours.

“It was a big thing, except it wasn’t,” Rachel Nelson, interim director of UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences, stated about the examine. “Gallup polls were done and something like 56% of white people thought there was no racism in the criminal justice system.”

The driving power behind the present is utilizing artwork to have interaction individuals in several methods, to allow them to see the dynamics of racism. Nelson thinks UC Santa Cruz, with its sturdy historical past of analysis on this space and school members, comparable to feminist research professor Gina Dent and anti-prison activist Angela Davis, is a pure match to host conversations about freedom and justice. Upcoming free occasions embrace Abolition Then and Now with artist Isaac Julien i Robin D.G. Kelly, a professor of African American Studies at University of California, Los Angeles, in addition to Prisons and Poetics with poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, who has written a e book about going from being incarcerated as an adolescent to graduating from Yale Law School.

“Solitary Garden,” on the UC Santa Cruz campus overlooking Monterey Bay, is the heart of the present, Nelson and Dickens say. Artist jackie sumell made a sculpture of a solitary confinement cell, surrounded by a vegetable and flower backyard, which UC Santa Cruz college students helped plant, taking instructions from Tim Young, who has been in a cell on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison for a pair many years. Young’s letters hold in the exhibit at the San José Museum.  

jackie sumell, “Solitary Garden,” at UC Santa Cruz

“This shows you the ways people can’t be contained even on Death Row,” Dickens stated. “In letters he writes of planting the garden he would want to grow even though he hasn’t been able to touch the ground in years.”

Dickens says items like this try and transcend information to indicate the fact of a scenario. In reference to the present system of mass incarceration, Angela Davis has stated, “Dangerous limits have been placed on the very possibility of imagining alternatives.” The artists in Barring Freedom search to check different potentialities.  

Barring Freedom continues at the San José Museum of Art (110 S Market St, San Jose, Calif.) do ožujka 21, 2021.

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