The Ford Foundation Gallery will open its doors to Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana, exploring one of the most critical issues of inequality and injustice facing our nation today through the lens of a population too often overlooked.
Here is part of the statement by Paul Julien (above) on his artistic response to Dolita Willhike’s experience: “In 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, slavery was abolished; however, forced labor has remained legal under the circumstances of punishment for crimes. This artwork takes on the American flag as a compositional framework, and it brings a new interpretation to the stripes it bears by drawing visual associations to prison bars, chain gangs, and systems of confinement that have been in use since the middle passage and colonial era.”
With an alarming rise in rates of female incarceration ~ according to the Prison Policy Initiative, women’s state prison populations in the U.S. have grown 834 percent over the past 40 years, with Louisiana currently having the 19th highest rate of incarcerated women in the world ~ this exhibition seeks to build awareness of the crucial issues that impact women before, during, and after incarceration.
Here is just a portion of the statement by Lee Delgaard (above) on her artistic response to Earlneishka Johnson’s experience: “I was immediately struck by Earlneishka’s empathy and her commitment to fairness. She wants to help other people, stand up, and speak for them when they can’t be heard. She was a high school athlete; in many ways these are the values of sports teams and teams captains. Her time incarcerated comprised 1/12 of her young life at the time. 21 months, and she turned 21 inside.”
The exhibition presents works from more than 30 artists who created new pieces based on the personal stories of 30 formerly and currently incarcerated women: persisters. Stories of loss, hope, despair, survival, triumph, and persistence are shared in a variety of forms, demonstrating simultaneously the universal struggles faced by communities impacted by incarceration and the personal resilience of each woman featured.
Above, “Shai Parker is rendered as a Sowei spirit mask used by the Sandeeps Society of Sierra Leon in West Africa. These masks are used “during rites-of-passage” ceremonies that signify a girl’s transition to adulthood. These masks are commissioned and performed by the elder women of the Sandeeps Society.”
Per(Sister) originated at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University (NAM) under the leadership of museum director Monica Ramirez-Montagut assisted by curator Laura Blereau, and was developed in equal partnership with Syrita Steib and Dolfinette Martin, with additional support provided by Operation Restoration and Women with a Vision.
The exhibition is divided into four sections that explore the root causes of female incarceration, the impact of incarcerating mothers, the physical and behavioral toll of incarceration, and the challenges of and opportunities for reentry for formerly incarcerated women. These four themes bring together diverse works ~ including voice recordings, photographic portraits, informative illustrations, sculptures, paintings, songs, and performances ~ and serve as an entry point into each woman’s story, creating a cohesive exhibition that incorporates the voices of the persisters and artists alike while highlighting powerful statistics collected from the Vera Institute of Jusice, Prison Policy Initiative, the Sentencing Project, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and others. Per(Sister) also benefited from the expertise of more than 150 individuals from Tulane University’s faculty and students, individuals directly impacted, and community stakeholders who through community gatherings contributed time and knowledge to the exhibition.
“For a museum looking to address social justice issues through the lens of arts as NAM does, and being aware of Louisiana’s recent reputation as the ‘incarceration capital of the world,’ it seems only reasonable to look into the prison industrial complex, one of the most critical issues affecting our immediate communities,” says museum director Monica Ramirez-Montagut. “The objective of this art exhibition is to informally educate the visitors on the human experience of those that have encountered the justice system. This is more than an art exhibition, it’s a community platform that brings together more than 150 collaborators for the benefit of its community, to heal and move forward together.”
Exhibiting artists include Kira Akerman Ron Bechet Allison Beondé Lee Deigaard Lynn Drury Keith Duncan Butch Frosch Amy Elkins The Graduates L. Kasimu Harris Cherice Harrison-Nelson Ana Hernandez Maria Hinds Brandi Holmes Epaul Julien MaPó Kinnord Henrietta Mantooth Spirit McIntyre Tammy Mercure New Orleans Jazz Orchestra Anastasia Pelias Margie Perez Sheila Phipps Keith Porteous Sarah Quintana Rontherin Ratliff Devin Reynolds Kimberly Rivers-Roberts AKA Queen Black Kold Madina jackie sumell Nubian OmiSayade Sun Taslim van Hattum Carl Joe Williams Ryn Wilson
Per(Sister) aims to look beyond the statistics and bring the faces, names, and personal stories to light as a way to comprehend the injustice of the criminal justice system in the United States.
Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana, curated by Monica Ramirez-Montagut, will be on view from February 21 though May 9, 2020 with Opening Event to be held on Monday, March 2nd from 6:00-8:00pm at Ford Foundation Gallery, 320 East 43rd Street, NYC