Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture




Images from two series: Looking inside: Portraits of Women Serving Life Sentences ~ Life after Life in Prison: The Bedroom Project. Image credit: Sara Bennett

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is the current destination for the acclaimed exhibition, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration curated by Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood ~ previously on view at MoMA PS1 in 2020.

Documenting the work of more than 30 artists, including people in prisons, formerly incarcerated artists, and work by non-incarcerated artists concerned with state repression, the exhibition will be on view throughout the historic research library. Marking Time will be on view through December 4, 2023, with all three galleries on view, an artist talk, and a performance.

Artist George Anthony Morton working with a portrait sitter. Image courtesy The Schomburg Center.

Featured artists include James Yaya Hough, Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter, George Anthony Morton, Tameca Cole, Sable Elyse Smith, Larry Cook, and more. Marking Time is curated by Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood (James Weldon Johnson Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University) with exhibition coordinator Steven G. Fullwood (former assistant curator of the Schomburg Center’s Manuscripts, Archives & Rare Books Division) and Novella Ford (Associate Director of Public Programs and Exhibitions at the Schomburg Center). The exhibition is based on Fleetwood’s book of the same name.

“The Schomburg Center, and NYPL in general, provided vital resources and support for researching Marking Time.Moreover, for over a century, Harlem has been crucial for the convergence of art, cultural engagement, and Black freedom struggles, of which abolishing prisons and ending the criminalization of vulnerable populations are vital components,” said Fleetwood.  “The Schomburg has long been a leader in Harlem, NYC, and the nation in research and programming that foreground the relationship between art, social movements, and liberation.” 

Marking Time aligns with the nearly 100-year-old Schomburg Center’s history in preserving and making accessible the world’s knowledge of African Diasporic history. The exhibition employs the Schomburg Center’s collection of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition. In 1971, the work of the coalition grew to include the creation of an Arts Exchange program in prisons in response to the uprising against inhumane conditions at the Attica Correctional Facility.

Marking Time. Ronnie Goodman, Courtesy of William James Association.

“The Schomburg Center remains a foundational resource for bringing out of the shadows and into conversation, ideas that continue to shape Black life. The impact of the viciousness of the carceral system is one, as are the many examples of the transformational power of the arts to cultivate paths to liberation of the mind and body,” said Ford.Marking Time offers an opportunity for the Schomburg to help audiences extend their understanding of what happens inside of prisons, provides a view of the rich creative lives of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, and to convene community members, organizations, scholars and artists in more dialogue.”

Marking Time features works that are shaped by their relationship to prison, punishment, and criminalization and bear witness to what Fleetwood calls “carceral aesthetics” rather than a form of therapy or “outsider art.” The artists in this exhibition reveal how incarceration transforms the fundamentals of living—time, space, and matter—and reimagine these changes to create new aesthetic possibilities.

Unique to the Schomburg Center’s exhibition, are new additions to the roster, including artists Kristina Bovina, Henry Frank, Gwendolyn Garth, C.A. Massey, Ndume Olatushani, and Kenneth Reams; as well as new works from artists already featured in the traveling exhibition. The lead artwork for the exhibition was created by the late Ronnie Goodman, a self-taught artist, runner, urban bicyclist, and jazz enthusiast who rediscovered and developed his art through the Prison Arts Project of the William James Association at San Quentin State Prison.

Marking Time. The Visiting Room #4, 2019 Digital print. Image credit: Larry Cook.

The exhibition has previously been on view at MoMA PS1, the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Brown University. To learn more about Marking Time, visit the exhibition’s website. While at the historic Schomburg Center, Marking Time will be displayed in all three of the research library’s three galleries – the Edison/Latimer Gallery, the Main Exhibition Hall, and the Media Gallery.

Over the years, exhibitions of beautiful and thought-provoking work created by those incarcerated, and/or people close to them, have been on view. Here are a few of past exhibitions on our list ~ The Ford Foundation Gallery presented No Justice Without Love, 2023; Also within The Ford Foundation Gallery, Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana in 2020. In 2017, John Jay College of Criminal Justice presented the exhibition, Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo. Also, the documentary film ‘I could Tell You ‘Bout My Life: Art and Incarceration‘, premiered at The Museum of the City of New York in 2019.

In line with the New York Public Library’s pillars of access to knowledge, the Library continues outreach work in its NYPL Jail & Prison Services program (JPS). Established in 1980, the Jail and Prison Services program has recorded 1,500 patron engagements per month with its circulating book service in Rikers Island, creates family programming including storytime workshops for incarcerated parents, and answers reference letters from prisons across the country. The NYPL Jail & Prison Services program annually publishes Connections: A Free Guide for Formerly Incarcerated People – the largest and most robust reentry community resource in New York City.

Major support for Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration is provided by the Mellon Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Additional funding is provided by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/NYPL.

About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the preservation, research, interpretation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diasporan, and African experiences. As a research division of The New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center features diverse programming and collections totaling over 11 million items that illuminate the richness of global black history, arts, and culture. Learn more at

About The New York Public Library

For over 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With over 90 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars. The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at

Free 45-minute tours of the Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration exhibition will take place on select Mondays at 11 AM, 12:30 PM, and 2 PM. The tour is limited to the first 15 people who sign up. Current tour dates ~ August 7, and August 21 . Additional dates will be added. Registration available here.

While you’re there, explore the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017—is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. Also, visit the Schomburg Shop or shop online at

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is located at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, at 135th Street, in Harlem (NYC).

Take a look at past events and exhibitions at The Schomburg Center. Take a look inside its newly renovated space, 2017.