Carole Alden is a self-taught sculptor/visual artist. During her thirteen years incarcerated, she continued to develop her artistic skills. Since her release in 2019, she is using her art to address the institutional disparities that victims of domestic violence face when they defend themselves.
In life I am many things, most recently a number in the American penal system. I remain throughout an artist; an innovator. I have discovered dignity, perseverance, and innovation to all be surprising results of dehumanizing situations and circumstances. Just as a dandelion somehow manages to present itself time and time again in glorious golden splendor even after being mowed over, sprayed with chemicals, and uprooted are myself and countless others; finding a way to shine; to persevere through the struggles life offers.
To correlate wasteful living and wasted lives is the concept that from what is considered trash; something forgotten; considered useless can be reshaped [into] a beautiful work of art, both meaningful and magnificent. By using throw-away items (non-biodegradable products; disposable packaging materials) as component or canvas in my creations, I hope to exemplify the idea that we can use innovation to redefine what we consider trash, begin to be conscientious, to produce and support Earth friendly alternative materials and packaging, treating the Earth as non-disposable containing every form of essential non-disposable Life, humans included. Purpose and beauty may yet be derived from what society has chosen to throw away. Ultimately in our fight for the Earth and each other, we must do our best to allow our innovative spirit to persevere.
American Artist is an interdisciplinary artist whose work considers black labor and visibility within networked life. Their practice makes use of video, installation, new media, and writing. American Artist’s legal name change serves as the basis of an ambivalent practice—one of declaration: by insisting on blackness as descriptive of an American artist, and erasure: anonymity in virtual spaces where “American Artist” is an anonymous name, unable to be validated by a computer as a person’s name.
Gil Batle spent two decades in California prisons on drug and forgery charges. He has made art as far back as he can remember, during and after prison.
Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter
Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter is an award-winning Philadelphia based artist who creates socially conscious music, film, and visual art through an autobiographical lens. Although it has been a decade since her release from a Pennsylvania prison, Mary’s time spent on the inside continues to shape the direction of her art and practice. Her entertaining but poignant works offer a critical perspective on the particular challenges women of color face when they become immersed in the criminal justice system. Her work has been exhibited at venues including MoMA PS1, African American Museum of Philadelphia, Eastern State Penitentiary, Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury Vermont, Martos Gallery and HBO’s The OG Experience at Studio 525 in Chelsea among others.
Ms. Baxter is also 2017 Soze Right of Return Fellow, 2018 and 2019 Mural Arts Philadelphia Reimagining Reentry Fellow, 2019 Leeway Foundation Transformation Awardee, 2021 Ed Trust Justice Fellow, 2021 SheaMoisture and GOOD MIRRORS Emerging Visionary grantee and 2021 Frieze Impact Prize award winner.
Sara Bennett photographs currently and formerly incarcerated women in New York State prisons, focusing on women sentenced to life. Her photographs document what it means to experience life as punishment, not by focusing on the everyday cruelties of prisons but on the strategies and practices of women to sustain life under such harsh conditions. Before she began taking pictures of imprisoned women, Bennett worked as a public defender for 18 years, advocating often for women who had survived abuse. Her work has been widely exhibited and featured in such publications as The New York Times, The New Yorker Photo Booth, and Variety & Rolling Stone’s “American (In)Justice.”
Kristina Bivona is a printmaker and book artist living in West Philadelphia. Her studio practice emphasizes the lived experience of criminalized sex workers and drug users. Kristina has worked with her hands since childhood and she confronts a society that has no problem objectifying women but criminalizes women who profit from their objectification. She curates an exhibition space for underrepresented artists (www.jargonist.org) and she specializes in teaching printmaking as a form of harm reduction and prison diversion/re-entry.
Bivona is a doctoral student at Columbia University, Teachers College and co-founded the prison diversion printshop with Recess | Assembly.
In the prison system art was a way to kill time. Sometimes there would be an idea that I would try to get out of my head but that never worked very well because I did not know what I was doing. Usually I would attempt something, fail by my own standards, then simply move onto something like cards, reading or going outside. Then I had to do month after month in solitary confinement. My options for keeping myself busy were slim so I had to develop a hobby that would keep me sane. This is when I started to take art a little more seriously. The conditions of my confinement compelled me to practice. I would attempt drawings of almost anything I could see or think of over and over. There was a lot of repetition involved.
Through this process I started to make pieces that I felt that I could share with family and friends. Those people enjoyed the art I was making while in the SHU and they in turn shared it with more people. The next thing I know my past-time is up on an internet gallery for the whole world to see. To me it was hard to understand but at the same time it was encouraging me to become a better artist. I now had a way to express myself and I also had people that were listening.
Then something developed through this journey that I would have never predicted; I began taking an interest in helping others realize their artist abilities. Some fellow inmates have had no experience at all in artistic expression while others were artists that just might benefit from something new. This brought me a bunch of joy. The experience of helping someone grow in their abilities or to discover a “hidden” talent is one of the most wonderful feelings because it is a triumph that both the teacher and student can enjoy.
At this point I understood that art can be used as a tool both in and outside of prison. A tool that gives people a place to go to when they are angry or happy, feeling lonely or just want to be alone. Some of my fellow inmates are not good at expressing themselves yet they can now through a brush or pencil. That is important. Important because the conversations that are taking place outside in the free world, about prison and the people that live within, need to have representations of the humanity that struggle on the inside. Artwork sparks those conversations. So for me art is much more about the visual combination of various elements, it is more than any technical style, composition or subject. It is about impact and what is communicated through connections made with the viewer. The butterfly effect is real and I would like to think that I have been caught up in its winds thanks to the very creative people in my family.
First off my gratitude to the Justice Arts Coalition team, with all their amazing support and the great friendship that I found within this great collection of people. Then there are my parents who always encouraged communication through artistic expression. My aunt Rebecca and uncle Craig for their unwavering support and networking abilities. Thanks to all the people who I have been able to build connections with throughout this journey. And most importantly the number one inspiration who compelled me to embrace art, following in his footsteps, my granddad, Giles. To the creative people that have influenced my life both before and during my prison sentence. Maybe my work can inspire something great in someone else, if that is the case, I feel that I am doing my part to make a better community that I will be released back to.
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick were born and raised in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. As a husband and wife team, they have been documenting Louisiana and its people for more than three decades. The body of work they call Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex began in 1980 and serves as both a historical record and testimony of life at Angola State Penitentiary, also called The Farm. Angola is an 18,000-acre prison farm where imprisoned people are traded like chattel among wardens of neighboring penitentiaries. Although the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in 1865, its prohibition of forced labor does not apply to convicted people.
Daniel McCarthy Clifford
Daniel McCarthy Clifford is an interdisciplinary artist making work about institutions. He explores prisons and schools as entry points to broader conversations about social control, race, class, and sexuality. Research into the justice system and his experiences in that system are backdrops for works that question the national narrative and the functions of America’s institutions. Using humor and elements of performance, he engages directly with institutions by appropriating correspondence between individuals held captive by or working for institutions and himself. He earned a BA in art history and BFA in sculpture at the University of New Mexico, and received an MFA from the University of Minnesota in 2018.
Tameca Cole is a visual artist and writer from Birmingham, Alabama. She also performs with Die Jim Crow. Cole’s art has been featured in Art in America, Artforum, ArtNews, Momus, The Nation, and The New York Times. While inside, she re-discovered her abilities as an artist. Using the spare supplies available, she created collages that were both political and personal. “My pain and struggles are just one of the inspirations I draw upon to create. My goal is to express the human condition in a way that enables the audience to see that we are all simply human.”
Larry Cook (b.1986, Silver Spring, MD) is a conceptual artist working across photography, video, and installation. Based in Washington, DC, Cook received his MFA from George Washington University (2013) and his BA in Photography from SUNY Plattsburgh (2010). Cook has exhibited his work nationally at MoMA PS1 (2020), UTA Artist Space (2020), the National Portrait Gallery (2019), and internationally at Weiss Berlin in Germany (2020). Cook has held artists-in-residences at Light Work and The Nicholson Project, among others. His artwork was recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. Cook is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Howard University.
Russell Craig is a painter from Philadelphia, now living in New York City. He is the co-founder of Right of Return USA, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists. A self-taught artist who survived nearly a decade of incarceration after growing up in the foster care system, Craig creates art as a means to explore the experience of over-criminalized communities and to reassert agency after a lifetime of institutional control. His work has been featured in Artforum, ArtNews, Momus, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, Artsy, The Guardian, and The New York Times. Craig is an alumni of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice Guild program, a 2017 Right of Return Fellow, and a 2018 Ford Foundation Art for Justice Fellow.
I am a Superpredator. After being sentenced to life in prison at the age of 16, this is the title that I was given and fought hard to denounce. Held in a cage for 22 years, I began crafting my personal method of artistic expression to find some sense of peace in a hopeless place before my resurrection back into the “real” world. As an artist, I use photography, poetry, and spoken word to further my radical love revolution. Transcribing my poetry directly onto imagery, in a genre I self-describe as ‘PhotoPoetry’, I am dedicated to the now archaic practice of handwriting.
I am from the great nations of the Yurok and Pomo Nations. I am a returning resident, former Arts In Corrections participant/clerk, and currently working for
the William James Association as the Communications and Programs Assistant and Teaching Artist at California Medical Facility (CMF). I use my art to make the Native American and currently/formally incarcerated visible as a human being and contributing member of society. My connection and coexistence within the natural world, my heritage, my culture and experience inspire and shapes my artistic expression. I draw from my childhood, my spiritual practice, my memories of my incarceration, living as a Native American in today’s society. Art has been mytherapist, my freedom, my connection with my heritage and a tool for introspection.
Maria Gaspar is an interdisciplinary artist whose work addresses issues of spatial justice in order to amplify, mobilize, or divert structures of power through individual and collective gestures. Through installation, sculpture, sound, and performance, Gaspar’s practice situates itself within historically marginalized sites and spans multiple formats, scales, and durations to produce liberatory actions. Gaspar’s projects have been supported by the Art for Justice Fund, the Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship, the Creative Capital Award, the Joan Mitchell Emerging Artist Grant, and the Art Matters Foundation. Maria has received the United States Artists Fellowship, the Frieze Impact Prize, the Sor Juana Women of Achievement Award in Art and Activism from the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Chamberlain Award for Social Practice from the Headlands Center for the Arts. Gaspar has lectured and exhibited extensively at venues including MoMA PS1, New York, NY; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX; the African American Museum, Philadelphia, PA; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She is Associate Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, holds an MFA in Studio Arts from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.
Dean Gillispie grew up in southwest Ohio. As a child, he enjoyed building miniatures and train sets, what he calls tinkering. When he was 24, he was convicted and sentenced for crimes he did not commit. He spent 20 years in prison before being released through the advocacy of his parents and the Ohio Innocence Project. While incarcerated, he created dozens of elaborate miniatures using materials he scavenged inside. He is now on the board of the Ohio Innocence Project and volunteers to help other formerly incarcerated people re-enter communities.
GisMo (Jessica Gispert & Crystal Pearl Molinary) was an artist collective active in the early 2000s. Their work explores tropes and gender roles within Latin-American subcultures. GisMo collaborated with Women On The Rise! created by Jillian Hernandez, which led to their working with incarcerated teen girls on a series of performative photographs exploring their dreams.
Ronnie Goodman was born and raised in San Francisco (SF). He was a self-taught artist, long-distance runner, and urban bicyclist. His love of art began at the age of six when he started drawing. Growing up in SF’s Fillmore neighborhood, he discovered his passion for jazz. Music was a recurrent theme throughout his creative work. Life’s journeys took him away from art, but he rediscovered it through the Arts In Corrections Program at San Quentin State Prison.
“There are times when I’ve actually wondered if any of my work would be receive or get any recognition. Now my spirit is renewed and I shall strive to maintain a high level of quality work now and in the future. My art is for the world to see, the wind blowing the trees. The perfection of beauty in one’s eyes, only you can see, frees me. I enjoy the peace I find when I’m doing art. I had been incarcerated for 45 years and am now a free man. I blend block printing with pointillism to create vivid portraits. My artwork has been featured in several exhibits and galleries including the Tides Thoreau Center for Sustainability (2015): On the Line: Artwork from San Quentin Prison Art Project at Jewett Gallery (2013); Rotunda Gallery, Hearst Art Gallery, Wamock Fine Arts Gallery among others. My piece, Restore Justice was recently featured in The Washington Post.”
“I have become an avid runner and painter since coming to prison. Running has maintained my physical health and art has enhanced my mental health. I hope through my art to help others visualize things differently than what they seem. You can be in prison wherever you are, it’s how you see it….beauty can be found anywhere…”
James Yaya Hough
James Yaya Hough, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a contemporary artist and activist. His art interrogates issues of mass incarceration, U.S. history, race, violence, popular culture, and identity. He is currently the inaugural Artist-in-Residence for the City of Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office. His work has been featured in Artforum, Dissent Magazine, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine.
Ashley Hunt is an artist, writer and teacher, who has dedicated the last 20 years of his art making to documenting the expansion of the U.S. prison system, its effects on communities, and how it continues the U.S.’s racial, economic and genocidal histories. Hunt works in dialogue and collaboration with movement building and grassroots organizations, including Critical Resistance, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Citizens for Quality Education, Southerners on New Ground, and Friends and Family of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children. His works have shown in community centers, prisons, and museums, including Pitzer Art Galleries, MoMA, Project Row Houses, the Hammer Museum, the Tate Modern, Documenta 12, and Sinopale Biennial in Turkey. Hunt lives in Los Angeles and teaches at CalArts.
Duron Jackson is a cross-disciplinary artist whose practice conflates academic and artistic research. He uses installation, photos, video archives, and objects to create new critical perspectives on dominant historical narratives. He received his MFA in Sculpture at Bard College, Milton Avery School of Art. Jackson is a 2013 recipient of the prestigious Fulbright research fellowship, granted by the U.S. State Department for creative research in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, where he was concurrently artist in residence at Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia, and Museu AfroBrasil in São Paulo. Duron Jackson is a Newark, NJ resident.
Eddie Kates is an American Artist, who is currently incarcerated in New Jersey. What lies behind all of Kates’ images is the primacy of the social infrastructure. While enrolled in an art class through NJ STEP, a program that brings college courses into New Jersey prisons, Kates created a series of graphite drawings about the history of black captivity and subjugation based on archival photographs.
Jesse Krimes is a Philadelphia based artist and curator, and the co-founder of Right of Return USA, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists. While serving a six-year prison sentence, Krimes produced and smuggled out numerous bodies of work exploring how contemporary media shapes or reinforces societal mechanisms of power and control. His work has been exhibited at venues including MoMA PS1, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Aspen Art Museum, Palais de Tokyo, The International Red Cross Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum, and Aperture Gallery. He has been awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, Creative Capital, the Art for Justice Fund, the Independence Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center, and Captiva Residency.
Susan Lee-Chun focuses on the investigation of origin, meaning, and representation through the importance placed on mundane objects, ideas, and structures. She is fascinated with the prevalence and mass production of kitschy objects and ideas that represent and characterize the notion of the other. Lee-Chun was born in Seoul, Korea, and lives and works in Miami. Since studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2004, MA), she has exhibited widely, including Herning Kunstmuseum, Denmark; 2006 Vienna Biennale, Vienna, Austria; Pacific Asia Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL; Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art + Design.
“All my artistic inspiration comes from music. I have been completely consumed with music my entire life. So many years of my life devoted to sitting in a room, drinking whiskey and listening to records. Today I am more than 11 years sober. I still have the opportunity to listen to music and paint and not need the alcohol and drugs to do so. But today I do it from prison after accidentally killing someone while drunk driving.”
Mark Loughney is a formerly-incarcerated painter and draftsman, whose art acts as a courier for criminal justice reform efforts nationwide. He is a recipient of the 2023 Art For Justice Fellowship, and is expanding his project to include portraits of supporters of criminal justice reform and the abolition of prison slavery.
The portrait project he started in prison in 2014 – Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration – now numbers over 800 faces. For viewers, this overwhelming visual effect of 800 individual portraits undermines the legal and social stigmas imposed on imprisoned individuals. For subjects, each portrait reflects the selfhood and agency denied to them by the incapacitation of the American prison system. Ultimately, Pyrrhic Defeat gives voice to the stories, personal histories, and identities impacted by over-policing and confinement in this era of mass incarceration.
Ojore Lutalo was released from Trenton State Penitentiary in 2009 after serving 28 years—22 of those years in solitary confinement because of his political beliefs and activism. In order to keep his sanity during his imprisonment, he abided by a strict regimen of physical exercise, meditation, and study. Over the years, he began creating collages as a way to maintain his sanity and to convey the physical and emotional reality he experienced in solitary confinement. While in isolation, Lutalo created a wide range of political art documenting his experience and the plight of other radical imprisoned activists, as well as techniques of psychological and physical torture used in solitary confinement units
Ronald McKeithen is a formerly incarcerated artist, advocate, and writer. He spent 37 years in Alabama’s prisons under the Habitual Felony Offender Act based on a robbery conviction at the age of 20. He used his time in prison to increase his education, become a barber, mentor others, and create meaningful connections with professors, journalists, and volunteers in the prisons. Ron was freed in December 2020 after being represented by Alabama Appleseed. He lives in Birmingham, where he works both at Appleseed and a drug treatment center.
George Anthony Morton
George Anthony Morton creates deeply personal work that embodies the constant interplay between opposites. He is the product of the “war on drugs” that deeply scarred the African American community. For his first offense, Morton was incarcerated from the age of 19 to 29 for a simple possession. During this dark time, Morton found his inner light and passionately developed his artistic ability. Upon release, he enrolled in the Florence Academy of Art, becoming the first African American to graduate. He was released early from parole, granting him access to study abroad and have his story documented in The New York Times. After graduating, Morton returned to Atlanta and opened Atelier South, which recently made front page of USA Today. Currently, he is working on a body of work that explores his earliest childhood experiences to his release from prison. These works are the impetus of his documentary that is currently in production
Lisette Oblitas works at the Society of Fellows and the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, where she collaborates with the Center for Justice and the Justice-In-Education Initiative to provide higher educational opportunities for presently and formerly incarcerated people. Oblitas, a native of Peru, became a Columbia University Justice-In-Education scholar in 2016. As a visual artist, Oblitas, along with 14 other women, created Shared Dining, a collaborative art piece inspired by Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979). Shared Dining was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, the American Visionary Art Museum, and the Maier Museum of Art. Oblitas has participated in numerous programs and exhibitions on art and incarceration.
In December 1985 Ndume Olatushani was wrongly convicted for a murder committed in a state he had never visited. He spent the next twenty-eight years in maximum security prisons, twenty of those years were spent on death row. Two years into his imprisonment Ndume’s mother and eight year old niece were killed in a car accident. This was when he began to draw and taught himself to paint. Art allowed him to exist in a state of harmony and tranquility, in spite of being physically, wrongfully locked up. Ndume said, “I found freedom living in a 4×9 foot cell twenty-three hours of the day in the shadow of death.”
Ndume also became an avid reader while in imprisoned. He completed his GED while on death row, took some college courses, became a certified paralegal, and eventually worked as a law clerk in the prison law library helping others with their legal problems.
Jesse Osmun grew up in Vermont and developed an interest in making art in childhood, taking summer classes, and then photography and painting classes in college. Upon arriving in prison at The Federal Correctional Institution, Fort Dix, Osmun took a drawing class and was encouraged by Treacy Ziegler and others. In prison, he discovered his love of drawing and experimented with gouache, watercolor, pastels, colored pencils, and other media to express his rage, love, pain, sadness, spirituality, hope, and chaos within the dehumanizing confines of prison. Work as a missionary in Kenya and in the Peace Corps in South Africa influences what he creates. His artwork has been exhibited at Cornell, in Denver, and at Atlantic Cape Community College.
Jared Owens is an multidisciplinary artist whose practice focuses on bringing awareness to the plight of nearly 2.5 million people enmeshed in the American carceral state. He is self taught during more than 18 years of incarceration, working in painting, sculpture, and installation, using materials and references culled from penal matter.
Owens’ current and recent exhibitions include “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at MoMA PS1 in New York (2021); “Rendering Justice” at the African American Museum of Art in Philadelphia (2021); “The O.G. Experience” in partnership with HBO and SOZE in Chelsea, NYC (2019); “Made in America: Unfree Labor in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at Hampshire College, Amhurst, NH; “Black Bone: Affrilachian Poets and Visual Artists” at Morlan Gallery, Transylvania University, Lexington, KY (both 2017). In 2020 he received a Right of Return Fellowship from SOZE Agency and in 2019 a Restorative Justice grant from Philadelphia Mural Arts to create a mural with teenagers under court supervision; in 2016-17 he was the recipient of a grant from the Eastern State Penitentiary to produce “Sepulture,” a large-scale installation. He is a 2021-22 Fellow at Silver Arts Projects
Tyra Patterson works to dismantle injustice created and perpetuated by inequity, racism and greed. She currently works at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center where she serves as the Community Outreach Director. Tyra is also a public speaker, artist, social activist and Ambassador for Represent Justice.
Kenneth Reams a native of Arkansas, was born in 1974. At an early age, he exhibited artist talent; however growing up, he dismissed and undervalued his capabilities. It was not until he met his darkest moment in life – while incarcerated under solitary confinement on death row – that he appreciated the communicative, expressive power of art and recognized his own talents. In 2012, Reams began to nourish and develop his raw talent, using whatever he could get his hands on within prison walls to create art. His work has been shown in multiple venues throughout the U.S. and in Europe.
REENTRY THINK TANK
The REENTRY THINK TANK connects formerly incarcerated men and women with artists and advocates to transform the stereotypes, social services, and platforms that impact our lives and communities. As part of their ongoing work, Reentry Think Tank Fellows spent two years interviewing over 1200 Philadelphians with criminal records to create the country’s first Reentry Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights has been transformed into exhibitions, publications, and posters that have reached tens of thousands of people through exhibits in museums, government offices, galleries, prisons, universities, and legal clinics.
Rowan Renee is a Brooklyn, NY based artist who transforms archival material sourced from State records and family archives into immersive installations. They use labor-intensive craft processes, such as loom-weaving and kiln-fusing glass, as a means to situate the body as both the site of violence and the vehicle for repair. They draw on their personal experience as a victim, a child of an incarcerated parent, and a member of the queer community to inform how they represent complex issues of harm, stigma and accountability, and to advance the artistic process as a means to enact transformative justice. They have received awards and fellowships from the Jerome Hill Foundation, Harpo Foundation and Brooklyn Arts Council, and have presented solo exhibitions at the Anchorage Museum of Art, Five Myles, Smack Mellon, Aperture Foundation and Pioneer Works. Currently, their project Between the Lines, supported by We, Women Photo, runs art workshops by correspondence with LGBTQ+ people incarcerated in Florida.
Gilberto Rivera Reyes was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn. As a teen, he was a graffiti artist. Sentenced to 20 years at the age of 23, Rivera began to explore various artistic media and collaborate with other imprisoned artists. A few months after his release from prison in 2013, he lost one hand while on a construction site. He has continued to make art and explore new media. His work has been featured in Artforum, The Arts Fuse, Hyperallergic, The Nation, and The New York Times.
Sarah-Ji is a queer Korean mama, PIC abolitionist organizer, and photographer who has been documenting freedom struggles in Chicago since 2010. She is a member of Love & Protect, a grassroots organization that supports women and GNC/non-binary people of color who have been criminalized or harmed by state or interpersonal violence. Sarah intentionally focuses her documentation work on everyday people imagining and and building a world rooted in love and justice, a world where we don’t need prisons and police. She hopes that these images of resistance and reimagination will plant seeds in others to join in the work of collective liberation.
Billy Sell created art while in solitary confinement cell where he lived for the last six years of his life. Sentenced to prison at the age of 16, he enrolled in correspondence art courses and studied the work of other artists. Sell notes that he particularly liked the work of the Renaissance Italian sculptor Bernini and had hoped to do drawings of the Virgin of Guadalope for his mother. Sell participated in the 2012 California prisoners’ hunger strike against solitary confinement. After reported medical duress, Sell was found dead in his cell. His death was determined to be a suicide, though witnesses state that he had been seeking assistance. Sell was 32 years old.
“In 1989, I received a BFA in Graphic Design from The Wichita State University, and circumstances being what they are now, I probably should have pursued the Fine Arts curriculum. Although I am in the unit craft shop, my more expressive work is done by sketching the guys around me. Quite a few of the men have me do a drawing of them to send home to loved ones. Photos are usually inaccessible. And, my sketches are a way to record a vignette into prison culture.”
Welmon Sharlhorne, a native of Houma, La., spent much of his life behind bars in Louisiana’s Angola prison. There, he began drawing with the materials available to him: Bic pens and envelopes, later manila folders.
Sable Elyse Smith
Sable Elyse Smith is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator based in New York. Using video, sculpture, photography, and text, she points to the carceral, the personal, the political, and the quotidian to speak about a violence that is largely unseen, and potentially imperceptible. Her work has been featured at MoMA Ps1, Swiss Institute, The Kitchen, New Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum, New York; ICA Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA; SITE Santa Fe, and MIT List Visual Arts Centers, Cambridge, MA amongst others. She is currently Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at Columbia University.
Justin Sterling, born and raised in Houston, Texas, is a visual artist currently based in New York City. He began his practice as a painter and sculptor, and later found interest in a broader range of media. Sterling received his Master in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts from Parsons. His chosen medium is the city, that he appropriates to create a poetic storytelling relationship with the urban and domestic, which in turn becomes a catalyst for social, political, and environmental discourse and activism.
Todd (Hyung-Rae) Tarselli
Tarselli has been in prison since 1992 and in solitary confinement for at least seven of those years. During his imprisonment, he has become a prolific artist, making works on found material, like leaves collected from the prison yard, but also by using isolation as penal matter, the subject of exploration in some of his work. Tarselli, who is Korean American, draws on earlier prisoners’ rights movements and on the racial and political education he has gained through the study of black radical activism and scholarship, having been tutored by political dissidents also held in isolation. Tarselli draws detailed portraits of black political leaders and imprisoned activists, both as part of his practice of solidarity and as a political critique of the relationship between incarceration, racial captivity, and dispossession.
Stephen Tourlentes is a photographer whose practice investigates the American landscape in the age of mass incarceration. His work is motivated by his concern with the lack of social investment in communities that has led to the systematic growth in the prison industry. His work has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Chicago Art Institute the Aperture Foundation and The Museum of Fine Arts Boston. He is the recipient of many awards for his work including a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, an Artadia Fellowship, Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowships and a McDowell Colony Fellow. He is a visiting faculty member and administrator at The Massachusetts College of Art & Design.
Jerome Washington has been creating art for several years. He has participated in the Prisoner Express art project for the past 9 years and has been represented in several exhibitions. Art has been the way to endure the loneliness of solitary confinement. As he says, “I’m not a bad seed, I just keep getting thrown into the hole all the time.” But in solitary he has also found – as he puts it – “The Bright Light of Learning.” Washington notes he never learned to read or write until recently, having spent a lifetime institutionalized. In teaching himself to read and write, Washington feels the relief of “a great burden from my shoulders.” Most recently, he has combined his new skill of writing with art, creating comic books for children.
Aimee is a self taught artist, activist, and the founder of the Returning Artists Guild, a network of 25 currently/formerly incarcerated artists. She is relentless in her pursuit of resources and partners to support arts access and exhibition opportunities for the guild and beyond.
After receiving a Master of Social Work from University of Pennsylvania, Ziegler studied art for 4 years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Ziegler exhibited for several years in various galleries; eventually deciding to exhibit her work in high security prisons where the audience would not have the same variables of power or money characterizing much of the commercial art world audience. These exhibitions led Ziegler to teaching art in prisons and becoming the volunteer art director for Prisoner Express (in the Center for Transformative Action affiliated with Cornell University) a distant learning program offering free through-the-mail courses to 8500 prisoners across the US.