Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women on view at Ford Foundation Gallery NYC




Per(Sister) at Ford Foundation Gallery NYC

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.

Epaulet Jullen 13th, 2018. Based on a discussion and interview with PerSister Dolita Wilhike

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.”

Carl Joe Williams: Whispers to God, Being Here When Women Need Me to Be Here!, 2018. Multimedia installation with two-channel video. 113 x 150 x 7 ¼ inches.

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.

Lee Delgaard, Persister Moon, 2018 based on a discussion and interview with PerSister Earlneishka Johnson

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.”

Henrietta Mantooth, Andrea Martin, 2018, based on a discussion and interview with PerSister, Andrea Martin

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.

MaPo’ Kinnord, AYA ~ Endurance, 2018, based on a discussion and interview with PerSister Shai Parker

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.”

Imagine a Landscape Without Prisons

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.

Keith Duncan, Gilda’s Story, 2018 based on a discussion and interview with PerSister, Gilda Caesar

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.”

Installation view: Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana. February 21 – May 9, 2020. Ford Foundation Gallery, NYC. Photo: Sebastian Bach

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

Allison Beonde: Per(Sister) Portraits, 2018. Archival pigment prints. 24 x 30 / 30 x 24 inches each. 30 portraits commissioned by the Newcomb Art Museum Tulane University. Image Courtesy of Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University

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

Read more about The Ford Foundation, its legacy of social justice, mission, international fellowship programs & more.