Just in time for the return of Orange is the New Black on Netflix, Visions of Confinement: A Lens on Women in the United States Prison System is the summer exhibit for Hunter East Harlem Gallery. The exhibit, which opened last week, was organized by Arden Sherman, Curator for the Hunter East Harlem Gallery, and Isaac Scott of The Confined Arts. Stepping into the gallery, viewers are immersed in the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, and their families.
“Die Jim Crow” is a collaborative album, written and performed by formerly and currently incarcerated black singers and songwriters from across the country.
Through the writings, memoirs, paintings, words and photographs of these women, the viewers are given the opportunity to experience this thought-provoking subject in a personal and thorough way. Each of the dozen artists in this exhibit present a combined picture, taking viewers on a journey. Many of the artists are speaking from the personal experience of being incarcerated, and speak to the issues of injustice, family violence, and the stigma surrounding the children of incarcerated parents.
“Separate” 2014, artist Charly Swing
For this exhibit, the gallery has been turned into an “educational lounge” that includes not only artwork, but also a letter-writing station, listening station, and small library, all addressing how women experience living in confined spaces. In addition, the exhibit addresses life after release, family interactions, and the plethora of obstacles faced by incarcerated women in todays justice system.
Letter Writing Station by Write to Matter
While raising consciousness about the issues surrounding mass incarceration, the mission of Write to Mater (above) aims to nurture relationships with loved ones who are incarcerated. Seventy-five percent of incarcerated women in New York State are mothers. Half have a history of serious chronic illness. All face harsh prison conditions and difficult reentry into society, including strict reunification laws that may prevent mothers who are imprisoned from regaining custody of their children upon release.
(L) Pakistani Asylum Seeker, Federal Detention Facility, Baltimore, Maryland, 2002 and (R) Julia Gomez, Oakdale Detention Facility, Oakdale, Louisiana, 2001. Photographer Steven Rubin.
In a system largely created by men, women are left victimized and traumatized in a system that doesn’t fit their needs. Art is often the way the subject of incarceration is explored. The artists and collaborators in this exhibit hope to broaden the discussion on ways to improve conditions. One of the collaborators, Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project, was initially brought to our attention last year at the Carnegie Hall 125th Anniversary Celebration featuring West Side Story. The Lullaby Project, sponsored by Carnegie Hall, recognizes the difficulties for children of the incarcerated, and pairs professional musicians with women in jails, homeless shelters, and city hospitals, to help them write lullabies for their children. Each one of the exhibit collaborators will be contributing to the summer-long programming, shedding light on the struggle for women, and discussion on reform and improved conditions.
Alana Roth, All from the series “Euclid Illustrated: Selection from Euclid’s Geometric Definitions”
Ms. Roth (above) is a Bronx-based artist and public defender who represents those who cannot afford a private attorney. In her artwork, she portrays how profoundly disturbed she is by racial and economic disparity in the judicial system.
Visions of Confinement: A Lens on Women in the United Stated Prison System will be on view through September 10, 2016 at Hunter East Harlem Gallery, 2180 Third Avenue at 119th Street in East Harlem. Taking the exhibit beyond the gallery walls, summer-long programs and events are scheduled by a dozen collaborators, including a three-day Justice Forum and series of in-gallery symposium from July 7-9 presented by Isaac Scott, The Confined Arts. Mariposa and the Saint is a play that will be performed on September 8, bringing to life the true story of a woman locked in solitary confinement for nearly three years, in her own words. Check the Hunter East Harlem Gallery schedule for the complete summer-long schedule.
For more information on this topic, 13 of New York City’s Active Prisons, the New School exhibit, States of Incarceration, and Untapped Cities inside Rikers Island Prison. Get in touch with the author at AFineLyne.