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After stints at Haverford College, PA; Scripps, CA; and Rutgers, NJ, my first solo-curated effort Prison Obscura is all grown up and headed to New York.
It’ll be showing at Parsons The New School of Design February 5th – April 17th:
On Thursday, February 5th at 5:45 p.m, I’ll be doing a curator’s talk. The opening reception follows 6:30–8:30 p.m. It’d be great to see you there.
Here’s the Parsons blurb:
The works in Prison Obscura vary from aerial views of prison complexes to intimate portraits of incarcerated individuals. Artist Josh Begley and musician Paul Rucker use imaging technology to depict the sheer size of the prison industrial complex, which houses 2.3 million Americans in more than 6000 prisons, jails and detention facilities at a cost of $70 billion per year; Steve Davis led workshops for incarcerated juvenile in Washington State to reveal their daily lives; Kristen S. Wilkins collaborates with female prisoners on portraits with the aim to compete against the mugshots used for both news and entertainment in mainstream media; Robert Gumpert presents a nine-year project pairing portraits and audio recordings of prisoners from San Francisco jails; Mark Strandquist uses imagery to provide a window into the histories, realities and desires of some incarcerated Americans; and Alyse Emdur illuminates moments of self-representations with collected portraits of prisoners and their families taken in prison visiting rooms as well as her own photographs of murals in situ on visiting room walls, and a mural by members of the Restorative Justice and Mural Arts Programs at the State Correctional Institution in Graterford, PA. Also, included are images presented as evidence during the landmark Brown v. Plata case, a class action lawsuit that which went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, where it was ruled that every prisoner in the California State prison system was suffering cruel and unusual punishment due to overcrowded facilities and the failure by the state to provide adequate physical and mental healthcare.
Parsons has scheduled a grip of programming while the show is on the walls:
Mid-day discussion with curator Pete Brook and Tim Raphael, Director, The Center for Migration and the Global City, Rutgers University-Newark.
Wednesday, February 4, 12:00–1:30 p.m.
Co-hosted with the Humanities Action Lab.
These Images Won’t Tell You What You Want: Collaborative Photography and Social Justice.
Friday, February 27, 6:00 p.m.
A talk by Mark Strandquist.
Windows from Prison
Saturday, February 28
A workshop led by Mark Strandquist. More information about participation will be available on the website.
Visualizing Carceral Space
Thursday, March 12, 6:00 p.m.
A talk by Josh Begley.
Please spread the word. Here’s a bunch of images for your use.
At The New School, Prison Obscura connects to Humanities Action Lab (HAL) Global Dialogues on Incarceration, an interdisciplinary hub that brings together a range of university-wide, national, and global partnerships to foster public engagement on America’s prison system.
Prison Obscura is a traveling exhibition made possible with the support of the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College, Haverford, PA.
Mom Were OK, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
STRAUSS AT HAVERFORD
Strauss will be there too. Talking and everything.
Friday, January 23rd.
Drying Money, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
TV on Second Floor, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
This is my hometown, Toms River, NJ, 2012. © Zoe Strauss.
In Sea Change, Strauss traces the landscape of post-climate change America. In photographs, vinyl prints, and projected images, Strauss treads the extended aftermath of three ecological disasters: Hurricane Katrina in the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2005); the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Southern Louisiana (2010); and Hurricane Sandy in Toms River, NJ, and Staten Island, NY (2012). Lush and leveled landscapes; graffiti pleas and words of encouragement—Strauss’s camera captures lives decimated and dusting off: the fast and slow tragedies of global warming, the damage we can repair, and the damage we can’t.
I had no idea Strauss was working on a survey of disasterscapes in America. Following her 10 years of photographing in Philadelphia and celebrating the colours and characters of her beloved home city — and then presenting her photographs annually beneath Interstate 95 — it makes sense that Strauss would gravitate to the realest of struggles for real people at a time when real (climate) change is unleashing real events.
Sandy, Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophes left millions of Americans floundering, thousands dead, communities torn from the ground. In the immediate aftermath of such events, attention focuses on the official and governmental responses, but Strauss is more interested in the long tail of disasters and of informal vernacular responses. Strauss seems hell-bent on reminding us that after the camera crews leave, there’s still generations of rebuilding to be done (especially ecologically).
In Sea Change we see Strauss’ usual dark humor and restless documentation of the frayed edges of our nation. She’s holding up a mirror to the inconvenient messiness that we like to think we can deal with quickly and efficiently, but Strauss’ world is in a state of constant entropy, and it’s the invisible, the workers, the poor, the animal kingdom and the dissenters that lose out most when the shit hits the fan.
We all know that we’ve permanently altered our planet’s climate systems; we all know we’re on the hook. But we also know we can look anywhere-else, any time we want. And we know we don’t have to live on the Gulf Coast, or in the path of hurricanes. And we know that when things go south, we can turn our heads to the news and make a distant appraisal about whether the clean-up is happening quick enough or not, or watch some talking heads, or wag our finger at some government official.
Strauss’ victory in all her work — and particularly in Sea Change — is that she marries the visuals in her inquiries and her work so that they sync with her experience of the world. She is keeping herself honest through her photography. Perhaps Strauss can keep us honest too?
Foundational to Strauss’ work too is a deep respect. Zoe is irreverent, for sure, but she is also respectful of people. Entropy is going to happen; change is constant. People are going to win and people are going to lose, amidst change. That’s life. The degree to which people’s fortunes differ … and the degree to which people win and lose … and the degrees to which those statuses are kept permanent, that’s not just “life” though. It’s for us to decide how disaster will effect our collective in the long term. It’s for us to decide on the most equitable distribution of resources when many have literally been swept away.
When people fall down, we help them up. Rebuilding is everyone’s business. In Strauss’ world, love is the response to entropy and its disruptions.
Running: January 23–March 6, 2015
Reception and opening talk with the artist: Friday, January 23, 4:30–7:30pm
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication designed by Random Embassy, Philadelphia, featuring essays by artist Zoe Strauss; The New Yorker contributing writer Mattathias Schwartz; Helen K. White, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Haverford College; and a poem by Thomas Devaney, MFA, PEW Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry, Haverford College.
Oiled Water Coming Inland, Waveland, Mississippi, Early July, 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
Billboard, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
We’ll Be Back, Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mid September, 2005 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
Contact (my mate) Matthew Seamus Callinan, Associate Director, Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and Campus Exhibitions
Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA 19041
Tel: 610 896 1287
Don’t Forget Us, Mississippi Gulf Coast, July 2010 © Copyright of Zoe Strauss
A CARTOONIST GOES TO JAIL
In June 2014, Los Angeles-based cartoonist Elana Pritchard was arrested for violating a court order. When she bailed out on July 3, she had little-to-no money and an overworked public defender. Her prospects didn’t look great.
“I knew I’d have to serve time for my violation,” Pritchard wrote for LA Weekly. “That’s when my mentor, animator-director Ralph Bakshi, advised me to *document my exploits*.”
Pritchard was jailed in the Los Angeles County jail system for two months. First, she spent 5-weeks at Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF) in Lynwood, and closed out her remaining 3-weeks at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown L.A.
ACCESS, OBSERVING & DRAWING
As you know, I deal with photographic imagery mostly, but I am always eager to point out creative efforts in other mediums that illuminate critical criminal justice issues more efficiently, powerfully and intelligently than photography. Pritchard’s cartoons from jail are honest, wry and direct.
“Armed with nothing more than a golf pencil and whatever paper I could get my hands on, I drew the strange world into which I’d been dropped,” says Pritchard. This was the draughtsperson’s equivalent of a two-month photojournalist embed!
They get to the root of those daily indignities that establish power-relations between guards and prisoners. Simultaneously, those power-relations ratchet up tensions for everyone in the jail.
As you look through these cartoons, I ask you to wonder is the “strange world” Pritchard reveals — of cold showers, dirty laundry, confiscated belongings, midnight cell-counts, competitions over basic sanitary products, food scarcity, sly put-downs and much more — one that we can accept, or one that we can ignore?
The unreasonable claustrophobia of the jail is made visceral in Pritchard’s drawings. I’d argue she conveys the experience of jail far better than many photographers can and have.
I discovered the comics at the Prison Arts Coalition blog and hastily made inquiries as to whether I could repost the cartoons and Pritchard’s commentary here. Gratefully, I was given permission.
Scroll down, here, to read Pritchard’s reaction to the cartoons’ publication in LA Weekly. I also recommend you read the original LA Weekly article in which Pritchard explains the context for each image.
“I Wanted To Remind Us We Were People”
I couldn’t be more pleased with the response to my cartoons from Los Angeles jail system. People from all over the world have written to me expressing their support for what I have done and their contempt for inhumane practices for incarcerated peoples everywhere.
I have been in communication with the LA County Sheriff’s department and they have told me that due to these comics they have issued a new policy that all inmates must be given showers within 24 hours of entering the jail. We are scheduled to meet to discuss further improvements. And throughout all of this it seems the original, humble message of these comics is sticking: that we were people.
Even though we had a barcode on our wrist with a number and were called “bodies” by the staff, we were still people.
Many people in jail are still on trial and haven’t even been found guilty or innocent yet. Many people made mistakes that you or I have made before in private, only they got caught. There were mothers in there that missed their children. There were kind people in there that cared about the arts and cared about each other.
I drew these comics to make us all laugh and remind us that even though there was a whole group of of people with badges and better clothes than we had telling us we didn’t matter … we DID matter and we WERE PEOPLE.
In that the comics were successful, and for that I am proud.
All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.
Elana Pritchard is a cartoonist in Los Angeles. Before she landed in jail she worked as an animator on Ralph Bakshi’s film, Last Days of Coney Island.
She is currently raising money on Kickstarter to complete her animation, The Circus.
You can follow Pritchard on Twitter at @elanapritchard.
All images were first published in the LA Weekly, 2015.
Honore Feliciano de Souza is the current head of the Agoudas community and the direct heir of Chacha I (1754–1848), who was one of the foremost middle-men in the slave trade between the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Europeans, early 19th century. To honor their ancestor, the family seemingly runs a sort of memorial in Singbomey, where Chacha I is buried in the family cemetery. According to Honore Feliciano’s unlikely opinion, “the Chacha was not involved in such a slave trade as this. At the time when the Kingdom of Dahomey was killing people, he preferred to take them to Brazil to make them work. He was in fact saving people and that is the reason why today there is some admiration for him,” he says. “Nowadays, no one would want to be a Chacha. Being Chacha is facing many hardships. I haven’t chosen to be one. On October 1995, everyone gathered here and I was appointed Chacha VIII, I cried that day. It’s a life-long mandate.” © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
LEGACIES AND TRACES OF COLONIALISM
Culture is a complex thing, especially when it is emergent from centuries of violence, oppression and bondage. The Atlantic slave trade moved millions of bodies and reordered the geographies of peoples and their customs. There are as many histories as there were individuals who lived and suffered, were bought and sold.
Photographer Nicola Lo Calzo has waded deep into this history for his ongoing, serialised project Cham. For five years, he has investigated slavery’s legacy in Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe.
“From the destruction and the uprooting imposed by the Europeans, to the conquered and deported peoples, the history of slavery is inseparable from the odyssey of Western colonialism,” says Lo Calzo. “But it is also the history of resistance to slavery.”
Elements of resistance are visible in the myriad of visual cultures and traditions upon which Lo Calzo has turned his lens. There no longer exists clear icons or customs that are squarely of a single experience or people. Over the centuries, and at different moments, descendants of slaves across the Atlantic region have won freedom, moved and settled, mixed, revived ancient traditions, and reclaimed symbols of the slavery era. Everything, visual culture included, is in constant flux.
“I’m interested in exploring through photography how and why these groups re-appropriate their slavery past, the ways and manners by which they are transferring this memory to the next generation, as well as its impact on modern societies,” says Lo Calzo.
The founder of the David Akplogan Godonou Dossou family was a wealthy merchant of Gouns ethnicity, coming from Porto Novo. “Akplogan” referred to his function as cult minister under King Toffa. According to Mirabelle G. D., great great granddaughter of the founder, “at the peak of the French domination, he decided to change his name and give up voodoo”. Like most of the city’s rich merchants, he owned “mede”, literally “chosen people”, a dozen of domestic slaves, according to his descendant’s testimony. In this picture shot in the nineteen-twenties, at the height of his economic power, he is seen sitting in the main courtyard of his property. Porto Novo, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
In Buryan, Death embodies also the spirit of the slaves’ master, who is the founder of their community, Don Francisco Felix de Souza, known as the Chacha I. This double figure of the “Death-Master” is the protector of the hierarchy within the community, while becoming the oppressor of those who would violate it. Buryan perpetuates its original signification in confirming and consolidating the hierarchy and casts among the members of the community: the De Souza of servile ascent on one hand, and the De Souza of direct lineage on the other. Oiudah Beach, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
Sitting in the center of the picture, Conforte, aged 30, now lives in this house built by her great-grandfather David Godonou Dossou, in the early 19th century. Like the majority of the merchant families, he owned Médé, literally meaning “chosen people,” a dozen of them according to her. These slaves were employed for domestic tasks; construction works in the family concession and in the palm oil plantations. This house is one of the highest examples of Afro-Brazilian architecture in West Africa. “Everyone wanted to abandon our ancestral property as we lacked resources and personnel,” says Mirabelle G. D., the great great granddaughter of the founder. “We’ve been brave enough not to let the house crumble down. The UNESCO has asked for the house to be maintained but we are still waiting for all the heirs’ approval.” Porto Novo, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
Clement is a member of this family originally from Marseille, France. His ancestor, Olivier de Montaguere, was the nineteenth steward of the French Fort for Louis XVI. He arrived in Ouidah in 1776. He brought with him his wife and their three children, Joseph, Nicolas and Jean Baptiste and organized the slave trade with the French West Indies, He disappeared during one of his trips to the Caribbean and he is never returned to Ouidah said Clement Olivier of Montaguere. Their descendants still live today in the old compound of their ancestor. Unlike many other local families, they have no voodoo altars in their homes, and while claiming their European origins, they strictly observe the catholic religion. Today, in the family cemetery (where I got the pictures), the oldest tomb is to Nicolas Olivier de Montaguere’s. According to the tradition, Nicolas grew up with the king of Dahomey Agonglo (1789–1797). After his adolescence spent in Abomey with the king, he returned to Ouidah in his father’s family home when he continued to deal palm oil . Nicolas and Joseph’s descendants still live in the old compound of their ancestors. They have maintained a position of prestige in the society, and historically occupy important positions in the public administration. Ouidah, Benin. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Tchamba.
Cham is made up of multiple chapters. Mas was made in French Antillas in collaboration with the Mas groups of Guadaloupe. Ayiti was shot in Haiti. The series Tchamba explores memory and experience in the African nations of Senegal, Ghana, Togo and Benin.
COMPLEXITY AND CONTRADICTION
During his work, Lo Calzo has encountered Creoles, descendants of revolutionaries, Voodoo practitioners and black resistance revivalists. Lineages and connections to past slavery are unique. Each generation that passes churns the mix. Lo Calzo, who resides in Paris, likes to use the French word ‘metissage’ when discussing the Cham. Metissage is a positive and politically-conscious term that celebrates diversity and the mix of race in culture.
“With all forms of creation and miscegenation, born as a result of the clash between the oppressed groups and the dominant system, the memory of slavery should be read and interpreted within this hybrid and metis universe,” says Lo Calzo. “It is characterized by ambiguity, mixture, juxtaposition and contradiction. I wish to make visible the connections — and also the contradictions — between these forgotten memories still living through the Atlantic world.”
To note the assimilation of colonial festivals, costume and figureheads is a potential political minefield. Yet, Lo Calzo is not celebrating the vestiges of Western colonizers. Rather, he is merely documenting them as fact. Sympathy toward, and faithfulness to, his subjects stories is Lo Calzo’s modus operandi. The African Yoruba and Nago communities in Benin and Togo have suffered especially, Lo Calzo has observed. So too, the Creole families of slave descendants in Guadaloupe.
Every evening after 6 pm, the group members meet each other in front of the headquarters, the old Fritz family store and they discuss politics, business, religion, and the next actions of the militant group. Pointe à Pitre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
The role of the rebel, the resistant, the “Slave maroon” is staged through a particular technical and musical choice. The masks are chosen very simply and made from natural materials. The aim of these technical choices is to result in a direct incarnation of history in the individual’s body, who can claim their multiple origins and reaffirm their putting down of roots in the Guadelupian ground. The body is then becoming a direct carrier for the Caribbean identity and history, which scalds and wounds are expressed in the flesh, through the corporeal moves, through the sounds of the chains and whips. Voukoum headquarters, Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
Fritz Duncan is the group’s head as well as its religious leader. “After several years of thinking and of rejection by the other groups “a mas,” I created the group “An Bout a-y” (literally “at the end”), to pay tribute to the ancestors,” he says. The group claims to be part of the animist religion and it doesn’t participate in the Carnival. For this group, the Mas are a link between the world of the living and the dead enslaved ancestors. The group is part of the secessionist party LKP. Bas de Bourg, Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
In the group’s symbolism, the bathing in the sea or river concludes the “charge” on «Mardi Gras», the last day of the Carnival in the catholic calendar. It is an emblematic moment that allows the members firstly to purge themselves from the “mas” to reclaim their individual identity, and secondly, to be reconciled with the “treacherous” sea and to reaffirm their relationship to the island’s history: the place of the bathing is just beneath the Fort Delgrès, a hotbed of the resistance to slavery. Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
Marcellus, alias Jean Jacques Dessalines with Adrien Jean Saint Vil, alias Charlotin Marcadieu, “Movement for the Success of the Image of the Heroes of the Independence.” Croix-des-Bouquets. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Mas.
ACKNOWLEDGING DIFFERENCE, HONOURING SAMENESS
Cham emerges from Lo Calzo’s interest in the concept of ‘Otherness,’ which is defined as that which is alien and divergent from prescribed social norm or identity. ‘Otherness’ is the identification, definition and social categorization often of a supposedly inferior group — and, usually, to oppressive ends — by a dominant group.
“Colonialism is connected with the ideological construction of racism and the invention of the ‘Other,’” says Lo Calzo, whose reflections upon physical ability, race, gender, sexuality and ‘Otherness’ have been consistent throughout all of Lo Calzo’s photography series such as Morgante, The Promising Baby, and The Other Family.
Whenever Lo Calzo travels he partners with local anthropologists, historians or associations. Recently, he worked with the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans and this month (August) he is photographing in French Guyana and Suriname with the help of La Tete dans les Images. Such allies are important as many of his subjects — especially those who live in societies with racial tensions — are reluctant or unable to speak about slavery. Still, Lo Calzo brings a respectful curiosity to the topic and presses the points.
“To think about ones own enslaved ancestry can pose identity, social and existential problems,” he says. “Who I am? Where do I come from? How can I integrate my family past in my present? What can I do to transmit this memory to the next generation? Why does society still looks at me through the outdated racial categories? What I can do to change it?”
The success of the Cham rests upon its breadth and the way Lo Calzo mirrors the complexity, and sometimes ambiguity, of history in his photographs. This complexity though does ask a lot of the audience. His greatest challenge is to tear down entrenched Eurocentric and Americentric attitudes which prohibit nuanced understanding of groups’ and nations’ uniqueness.
“We act and think through predefined categories of thought, without realizing these categories are daughters of colonialism and are no longer suitable for reading and interpreting the modern world,” explains Lo Calzo. “For example, in the western imagination, Haiti is a country of misery, a ‘neverland,’ a country without history. This dogma is obviously a falsehood created by the colonialist propaganda and integrated deeply into Western thought.”
Lo Calzo forecasts he’ll be making photographs for one more year to complete his complex statement. The entire project will be exhibited internationally in 2016, accompanied by book. The contribution is forever timely.
“The memory of slavery is a delicate subject,” says Lo Calzo. “The wounds of slavery are alive and present.”
In the water basin, a spirit named Lovana appears in the guise of a fish. The faithful come to pray around the basin, on Tuesdays and Fridays. A big party takes place there on September 5, the eve of the pilgrimage in Bord-de-Mer de Lemonade, to honour the Voodoo deity St. Philomena, also called “Lasyrenn” (the Mermaid). Today in Haiti, most of the Voodoo sacred places are located in the countryside, especially on the ruins of ancient colonial estates, which are thus affected by these community identity practices. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Modeste (in the framed picture) was deported as a slave from Ethiopia to Haiti, in 1781, to the land of Francis Testas, a sugar grower in the south of Santo Domingo. Testas last wishes read, ‘I order that all my negroes here with me, are free, are fed and maintained at my expense, until they have chosen if they want or not to return to the city of Jeremie […] July 13, 1795, seven and a half in the morning, Philadelphia.’ After five years of research between the United States, France and Haiti, and despite some opposition of her parents, Lorraine Manuel Steed was able to reconstruct the life of her ancestor Martha Adelaide Modeste, an African slave.” © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Preparation of the Mas-a-kongo déportaisyon, Voukoum group The phenomenon of the reinterpretation of the past and the African origin is clearly present in the case of the Mas-a-Kongo. This mask consists of coating the body and the face with a mixture of sugarcane syrup and soot collected in the chimneys of the sugar factories. Once again here, the elements have lost a part of their original meaning (referring to the cult of the bear or the savage man in the Indo-European carnival), to assume a new symbolism derived from the local context. Indeed, the Congo Mask is presented as symbolizing the African origin of the Caribbean people, because of its exacerbated black color. On the other hand, this image reflects of very occidental and colonial vision of the African savage. Nevertheless, this “Congo mask”, with its ambiguous origins, is considered the strongest symbol of the Antillean people’s Negro origins. Petit-Paris district, Basse Terre. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
The fugitive slave — or maroon — occupies a central place in the Haitian universe. He is the ancestor of the fathers of the nation. The maroon is the assurance of an uninterrupted genealogy, despite many ups and downs experienced by the young nation, since its birth in 1804. It is survival, resistance and refusal to abdicate. It is Haiti and vice versa, the incarnation of the Haitian Revolution. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Theodore Taondreau is the manager of this group. The role of the rebel-resistant, the “maroon” is staged through a technical choice and a specific music. In the case of the “whipper” or “rope launcher”, the mask consists in coating the body and face with a syrup pack (sugar cane syrup) mixture, normally collected in stacks at sugar factories. Again, these elements have lost some of their original meaning (in reference to the cult of the bear or the wild man in the Indo-European carnival) to endorse a new symbolic meaning linked to the local context. Indeed, the “whipper” symbolizes the African origin of the Haitian people because of his exacerbated black colour. © Nicola Lo Calzo. From the series Ayiti.
Cross-posted to Medium on January 6th, 2015.
Untitled by Derrick Quintero and Ann Catherine Carter. From the “Surrogate Project”
Artist and educators, Paris and Williams coordinate the best prison arts program I’ve never written about.
They work in tandem with prisoners on death row in Tennessee. The Riverbend Maximum Security Institution imprisons 79 people on death row. Eleven prisoners — Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman, G’dongalay Berry, Tyrone Chalmers, Gary Cone, John Freeland, Kennath Artez Henderson, Nikolaus Johnson, Donald Middlebrooks, Harold Wayne Nichols, and Derrick Quintero among them — have worked with Paris and Williams on a few projects. I have admired their practice for a long time.
I’d be embarrassed about bringing their work to you when they are already so far down their creative paths if I didn’t think they still had long and beautiful journeys planned out.
You can see a lot of their work, stretching back 18-months, on the R.E.A.C.H. Coalition blog.
Earlier this year, in Nashville TN, in collaboration with artists from Watkins College of Art they produced the exhibition Unit 2 (part 1) from which several of the images included herein originated. Recently, they completed Unit 2 (part 3). In both cases they partnered with small local galleries to put on the events.
Photos feature heavily in the collaborations between the condemned men and outside artists. For the series “Add-Ons” an outside artist would provide a prompt in the form of a drawing or piece of writing but often an image. The prisoner would then add to it by either drawing or writing directly on the print, or riffing off of it in words and sketches to create a second companion piece.
For the series “Surrogate” a prisoner would make a request for someone on the outside to do something for them by proxy — to enjoy a library full of books, to eat a hearty breakfast prepared to precise specifications, or to make a family portrait. In many cases the evidence and *shared experience* was documentation usually in the form of a photo.
AN ADVOCATE’S MESSAGE
While the process in producing these works is necessarily personal and intimate, the sharing of the artwork and the political urgency needn’t be. Paris, Williams et al. want to use exhibitions as moments for discussion and public education. Namely, they want to contribute to the anti-death penalty movement. As Paris told Hyperallergic, “The system of legal defense for capital cases is shoddy and poorly funded at best; there are no rich people, to my knowledge, on death row. We incarcerate more of our population than any other country. I could go on and on. It’s shameful. It’s not who we think we are as a country.”
This isn’t prison fetishism. The men on death row alongside the artists and students corralled by Paris and Williams are collaborators in the fullest sense. I think it is significant that the winning proposal was written by the prisoners; I think it may have been a deciding factor for the judges on the quality, intent and pedagogy of the art.
The prisoner-artists’ proposal reads:
During the past year, the state of Tennessee has staged a nearly unprecedented offensive against those individuals it has sentenced to die. A state that has executed only six people since 1960 has recently scheduled ten executions. As prisoners on death row, and imminent victims of that state-sponsored violence, we represent the “bare life” described so powerfully by historians and philosophers. During the past two years, however, through an unusual partnership with artists, writers, and educators in Nashville, we have endeavored to make our circumstances visible to those beyond the walls of prison. Through published writings and art exhibitions, we have addressed a public that knows as little of our lives as they do of the indignities of belly chains or the menacing shimmer of razor wire.
Our past exhibitions have often included collaborations with artists and art students on the outside. We have created “add-on” drawings (exquisite corpses, more or less) with people beyond the prison, and we have started sketchbooks before sending them out for strangers to finish. We have composed “surrogate” assignments for outsiders to realize (photographs of the stars, for instance, which some of us haven’t seen in 25 years, or the libraries in cities that we will never visit). We have made gifts of our art works and offered them to visitors to the opening of an exhibition in exchange for their photographic portraits. In one show, we exhibited a diorama that traces the all-too-common path from poverty to prison, and in other, we exhibited our personal snapshots and family photos to offer the world a glimpse of our social lives and to show that we are more than prisoners and men condemned to death
In response to your call, we propose an exhibition that will feature designs for our own memorials alongside our representations of the lives we would pursue if we were free. We have all been condemned to death, and the state of Tennessee intends to kill us, but some of are innocent, and we all hope to demonstrate that we are more than the sum of our worst deeds—or that we might be.
The works we will submit will include drawings, paintings, photographs, models, and text-based pieces. Some of us will submit statements outlining reasons for refusing to design their own memorials.
Kudos to them and all involved. Hope to be in NYC when it shows! Robin Paris and I are currently in conversation and I hope to share that back-and-forth with you in the future, but until then, I’d like to use this recent success as an excuse to share some images of the prisoners’ work.
Upreyl Mitchell and Harold Wayne Nichols, “Untitled” (add-on artwork), acrylic and colored pencil on photograph, 13″ x 9″ in (photo courtesy Robin Paris)
Mika Agari, Jessica Clay, Amy Clutter, Robert Grand, Kristi Hargrove, Robin Paris, Sharon Stewart, Tom Williams, Weng Tze Yang, and Barbara Yontz, “Surrogate Project for Harold Wayne Nichols: Breakfast for Dinner,” photograph.
Donald Middlebrooks, ‘Silence is Compliance’ (acrylic on canvas board)
‘The Night Sky’ by Robin Paris and Tom Williams with writing by Gary Cone, Harold Wayne Nichols, and Donald Middlebrooks. From the Surrogate Project
Nickolus Johnson and Zack Rafuls, “Untitled” (add-on drawing), mixed media on paper, 14 x 11 in.
Photograph and drawing, by Upreyl Mitchell and Kennath Artez Henderson. From the Surrogate Project.
Robin Paris is associate professor and chair of the Department of Photography at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and the Savannah College of Art and Design, and she has taught at Belmont University and The University of the South, Sewanee. Her work has appeared in exhibitions throughout the country. She has been co-facilitating the art workshop in Unit 2 (the Death Row unit) of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution since 2013. Her recent work has involved collaborations with its residents.
Tom Williams is assistant professor of art history at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a graduate of Stony Brook University and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, and he has taught at the School of Visual Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, New York University, and Vanderbilt University. His writings have appeared in Art in America, Grey Room, and other publications. He has been co-facilitating the art workshop in Unit 2 (the Death Row unit) of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution since 2013.
apexart is a non-profit arts organization in Lower Manhattan that was conceived to offer opportunities to independent curators and emerging and established artists, as well as to challenge ideas about art, its practice and curation. apex art is at 291 Church Street, New York, NY 10013 USA and it puts on exhibitions, Fellowship Program, publications, and public programs. It is free. Contact is 212 431 5270 or email@example.com. Hours are Tues – Sat 11am-6pm.
UNSOLICITED PROPOSAL PROGRAM
Anyone, from anywhere, may submit an idea-based exhibition to the Unsolicited Proposal Program. Each annum, three winning proposals are presented at apexart as part of its year-long calendar. Proposals remain anonymous and judged by an international group of 100+ artists, curators, writers and arts professionals. Each juror reads at least 50 proposals, in randomized order. Each proposal receives as many as 25 votes.
“We believe it is the most objective and fair process of evaluation that we have found,” says apexart. “Submissions are reviewed anonymously and solely on the strength of their idea. Previous curatorial experience is in no way required. Supplemental materials are not accepted to further level the playing field.”
The eventual ranking of proposals is made available online to all applicants.
As some of you might be aware, I recently moved down the west coast from Portland to San Francisco. Just as I focused on local artists back then, so too I’ll be peppering Prison Photography with features of local Bay Area photographers.
Kirk Crippens is a long time friend. I saw his latest show on opening night and I thought it was responsible and heartfelt. I have never been to Bayview Hunters Point which is the focus of Crippens’ series The Point. I am curious but as with many of the outlying SF neighbourhoods, I’ve never had a reason arise to visit. Which says a lot in itself of boundaries within even the same city. Bayview is home to one of my favourite newspapers. The SF Bayview reports on prison issues when virtually no one else is seeing the abuses occurring in our prison system. That’s an aside; on to the article proper
While reflecting on the African-American community of San Francisco, James Baldwin once said, “This is the San Francisco that Americans pretend does not exist.” The Bayview-Hunters Point district is a predominantly Black neighbourhood and, for years, has been isolated from the rest of the city and cited as a significant example of urban marginalization.
While other photography projects focus on the tougher, negative aspects of Bayview-Hunters Point, photographer Kirk Crippens took a slower and more reflexive approach to his interactions with a neighbourhood he admittedly knew next-to-nothing about prior to working on The Point which is a collection of portraits and interior domestic scenes.
The Point is currently on show at San Francisco City Hall. It includes not only dozens of portraits and interior shots made by Crippens but also family photographs to those in his portraits. It’s a lovely balance and a special production for this exhibition The Point: Kirk Crippens in collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point Community (Nov 15th – Feb 27th, 2015).
The Point celebrates the generations who have called Bayview home — “the kings and queens of Bayview-Hunters Point” as Crippens describes them.
In early 2011, Crippens walked into the Providence Baptist Church, established in Bayview in the early 1940s. The congregation welcomed him, shook his hand, remembered his name. Crippens described his task of photographing the community to the pastor. Subsequently, meetings were set up with respected individuals of the community who worked with Crippens to realise a shared vision.
“At a time when San Francisco continues to grapple with the distressing trend of the out-migration of the African-American community, it’s more important than ever that we bring this exhibit to City Hall,” says Tom DeCaigny, San Francisco Director of Cultural Affairs.
Located at the southeastern corner of San Francisco, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood was considered to be one of the last remaining San Francisco neighborhood left untouched by developers. However, with the completion of the Muni Metro T Third Street line in 2007, the first new light-rail line in San Francisco in more than half a century, and other plans on the horizon, Bayview-Hunters Point has recently become a focal point for recent redevelopment projects.
“Gentrification” is the word on everyone’s lips.
I wanted to find out a bit more, so I asked Kirk a few questions.
Scroll down for our Q&A.
Prison Photography (PP): What did you know of Bayview-Hunters Point before photographing?
Kirk Crippens (KC): Not much. Not until late 2010, when an email invitation to work on a project in the community arrived. I had an intuition I should accept the project. I began exploring the neighborhood, but my first photographs reflected my perspective of an outsider. I was wandering the perimeter of a community.
PP: What do you know now?
KC: I know ways to connect with a community. I needed to connect in a significant way in order for the project to assume some power and relevance. In early 2011, I walked into Providence Baptist Church. My life changed that Sunday morning; the Church became the lens through which I learned about and connected with the community.
I know about the beauty and solidity of the multi-generational bonds that run through the neighborhood.
Bayview-Hunters Point is the focus of redevelopment projects. The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, a superfund site requiring years of radioactive pollution cleanup, is being targeted for 10,500 new homes and close to 4 million square feet of commercial and retail space. The Point is on its way to becoming another coveted San Francisco zip code. While the African-American community watches its neighborhood transform, gentrification threatens to undermine its way of life. Displacement is underway in this historic African-American district.
PP: The church was your entry point into the community. Do you think the people and homes that access point provided allowed you to make a representative portrait of the neighborhood?
KC: It would be hard for someone to make a representative portrait of any neighborhood, so I’ll answer no. What I have done is reflect a vibrant segment of the community. Is it representative, probably not? Is it significant, yes — this aspect of the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood is not often celebrated or recognized.
Other photography projects focus on the gritty, troubled aspects that come from oppression and economic struggle, The Point is a collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point community.
PP: How has the work been received in San Francisco?
KC: I’m honored to say well. The exhibition opened at RayKo Gallery in September and was immediately booked by the San Francisco Arts Commission for a 3-and-a-half month exhibition at San Francisco City Hall.
PP: Your current exhibit at San Francisco City Hall features (beautifully framed) family pictures form the albums of the folks in your formal portraits. Why did you decide to pair the two types of image?
KC: A desire to connect further with the community. The director of the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries, Meg Shiffler and I had a meeting to discuss ways to enlarge the exhibition. We took inspiration from a previous exhibition at the SF Library that featured family photographs from Bayview. We then asked my friends and contacts if they had historic and family photos for the exhibition.
We were overwhelmed by the generosity and interest that came from the community. In the end we added 60+ historic and family photos and interspersed them with large 36 pieces from my work. It changed the project into a collaboration.
PP: Change is afoot in Bayview Hunters Point, as it is in all of San Francisco. What do you think the future has in store for the community there?
KC: The future of The Point is being created during these transformative years of redevelopment. I suspect the community will look quite different in 20-30 years, and not all for the best. I don’t want to speculate on what will or might be, and I certainly don’t want the friends and adopted family I’ve found in Bayview to see their community displaced, but I see mighty changes underway and everyone is bracing for them.
PP: Thanks, Kirk.
KC: Thank you, Pete.
Kirk Crippens is an American artist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had an early start with photography, inspired by his grandfather who kept a darkroom in his closet. Based in San Francisco since 2000, he began exhibiting in 2008. He was named a Top 50 Photographer in Critical Mass in 2010 and 2011, nominated for the Eureka Fellowship Program, invited to speak during PhotoAlliance’s Spring Lecture series at the San Francisco Art Institute, and was a finalist for Photolucida’s book prize.
Crippens has been an artist-in-residence at both RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco and Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon. His portfolio Foreclosure, USA was recently acquired by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas and can be seen in their current exhibition State of the Art, Discovering American Art Now.
He currently serves on an arts board in Bayview Hunters Point. Providence Baptist Church has become his home away from home.
HERE PRESS has done it again; it has produced a book that allows us an irresistible glimpse into foreign space and psychology. 2041 is a collection of self-portraits, made by a man, donning makeshift burqas and niqabs, in his home in England.
The title 2041 refers to the name by which the man is known. “2041” made thousands of images with the express intent to share them online with fellow full-coverage enthusiasts.
“Using the camera to articulate a passion he has secretly indulged for decades, the artist appears dozens of times without ever disclosing his image or identity,” says the HERE press release. “Long before 2041 bought his first real burqa online, he began crafting his own versions from draped and folded fabrics in a rich array of textures and colours … ranging from the traditional to the theatrical.”
2041 is part of a connected online community of men and women from across Western Europe and the Gulf States. They are Christians, Muslims and without religion.
This is a gripping book and look into a world that cannot be fully known, nor can be fully verified. What is interesting, therefore, is that without identifiable subjects, the veracity of photography collapses. Or, at the least, we have to completely shift our expectations about what photography provides. The book 2041 is working on, and with, many levels. There’s a motivation by HERE to celebrate photography by revealing its limits and capacity. Despite a reliance on images to connect themselves, 2041 and his cohorts are inhabiting the unphotographable.
As such, 2041 is a playful but earnest exposé of the photographic medium as much as it is this small web of like-minded folks.
A similar type of mood persists in previous titles by HERE. Harry Hardie and Ben Weaver skirt the outer territories of our photo-landscape and delineate the edges. Edmund Clark’s Control Order House took us inside the ordinary domestic spaces of a terror suspect under house arrest. Power was described precisely by what was not photographed. Jason Lazarus’ Nirvana took us into grunge-infused personal histories; the photographs were just a foil to get subjects feting up about beautiful and traumatic pasts.
I, for one, am getting quite excited by HERE’s growing catalogue of ever-so-slightly-disconcerting photobooks.
Between the internet and the veil 2041’s anonymity folds and billows. He remembers the enveloping cassocks and cottas he wore as a choirboy. As an adult, he moved toward total covering. In the early millennium, 2041 his bought his first computer and plugged into an online community that shared his passion.
“What almost all [of the people covering themselves] seem to crave is transcendence of the physical self – or at least being judged on the physical – coupled with the excitement of observing the world unseen, safely cocooned in luxuriant fabrics,” says HERE. “This is the burqa seen in a celebratory light.”
Naturally, I have lots of questions so I dropped Harry at HERE PRESS a line. He put me in touch with Lewis Chaplin who is co-founder of Fourteen Nineteen, but more importantly co-editor of 2041.
Scroll down for our Q&A
Prison Photography (PP): Where did you first see and hear about 2041’s photographs?
Lewis Chaplin (LC): I first found these images almost four years ago, while researching emergent subcultures of fetishists/obsessives who were finding community and likemindedness through the internet. Many of these people use Flickr in particular to indulge in their private desires, and it was here that I found 2041’s images. I was struck by the rigidity, flatness and compositional skills that his images had. Compared to most who used the image more as a byproduct or vehicle to access their fetishes, 2041’s images seemed more like the images were performed for the camera and the camera only, for the sake of documentation, rather than for anything else.
PP: Is the book 2041 made in collaboration with the subject? If so, how did you make contact, build trust, ensure discretion?
LC: Yes, it is fully collaborative. Contact was made initially by Harry Hardie , who introduced himself as a publisher, and then I was bought into the conversation. I began a regular correspondence with him, which culminated in a face-to-face meeting and then visits to his house, where we collaborated and photographed each other, and I went through his image archives.
PP: Have all the pictures been verified? Can we know it is the same person under the burqas and niqabs in all the pictures? Does verification matter? Is not knowing something in absolute certainty one of the facets of the images and their use?
LC: I can verify 90% of them through their EXIF data, as we have had access to raw camera files. However, it is not necessarily the same person concealed. I think it is this lack of verification that is the titilating point of these images. Beneath the veil, your physical identity shrinks into a few gestures and outlines, and you can take on the form and countenance of another.
Even now there are images which Ben Weaver (HERE PRESS) and I cannot decide whether they depict our protagonist or others. To be certain though – this form of image-making is a firmly social practice, one based around solid online and offline networks. A few images in the book give this away, and were you to find 2041 online you would find images of me concealed, for example.
PP: Why did you want to make this book?
LC: Because I think that unlike many of the images made by people with strange interests on the internet, these images say something very complex about photography. What I like about these images is that there is that they are purely performative gestures – but yet they give nothing away. They reveal the presence of an individual, but not their likeness, or an accurate representation. Something about the concealment of desire, or the hiding of the true likeness of an object in these images actually feels like a very nuanced statement on photography, that at no stage in the process ever actually tries to use the camera to bear any details, or describe anything accurately.
PP: How many potential subjects and/or images did you have to choose from in making the book? What makes 2041’s images special — some aspects of aesthetics, or merely their availability?
LC: It wasn’t so much a matter of choice, more that these images asked for some kind of sequencing and exploring. There is definitely an aesthetic dimension of these images that is appealing – the composition and contrast between flatness and texture, the shapes are unlike others I have seen – and there is also a lot of time and effort that has gone into these. 2041 is also an actor, and a painter. You can see the influence of classical painting on some of his poses and crops. He is also akin to humour and self-deprecation, you can see it sometimes.
PP: 2041 wishes to remain anonymous. Obviously, as the editor, you’re a legitimate proxy to whom I can talk. I want to ask what 2041 thinks of the book?
LC: Let’s ask him once he has seen it!
PP: What do members of the online burqa fetish community think? What do you think they might think?
LC: I don’t think it has made its way through to these channels, but I would hope that what they see here is that we are not trying to ridicule or pass judgement through our scrutiny. This book I hope comes off as a sincere tribute to photography being used in a genuinely interesting way that talks about self-perception, the way images are used on the internet and so many other things, through the prism of a very personal, domestic and specific application of the camera.
PP: Do we understand what the burqa is and what it does?
LC: In these images the burqa, niqab or any other Muslim garment is a means to an end in some way. You can see in some of 2041’s experimentations that it is just about complete coverage through any means. He is not wearing a burqa in most images, in fact. The removal of physical presence is the goal here – it is never about using the burqa in a subversive or political way.
PP: Thanks, Lewis.
LC: Thank you, Pete.
2041, the book
170 x 240mm, 120pp + 6pp insert
72 photographs + 1 illustration
Offset lithoprint on coated & uncoated paper Sewn in sections with loose dust jacket
Choice of 3 cover ‘photo insert’ cards
Text, illustration & photographs by 2041
Edited & designed by Lewis Chaplin & Ben Weaver Edition of 500.
© Ronnie Goodman
ARTS AND RECIDIVISM
“Evidence suggests that arts-in-prisons programs lower recidivism (returning to prisons) by 27% and reduce disciplinary actions by 75%,” reads the press release for the prison art exhibition The Cell and the Sanctuary: Art and Incarceration currently on show at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (SCMAH).
That’s a bold claim.
One of the great difficulties with justifying arts and/or liberal arts education is the difficulty in measuring its direct (positive) effects. Evaluation in budget-constrained prison systems is especially demanding and cynical. First and foremost, people want to know if any type of program steers a prisoner away from anti-social behaviour. If the answer is complex, partly elusive or complicated by other criteria then doubt descends, the enterprise is labeled as airy-fairy, and premise is dismissed.
In brief, prison arts programs wanting to prove themselves have a tough audience.
The effects of arts and education is difficult to track because many benefits such as relative thinking, critical engagement outside of institutional narratives, cumulative learning, etc. take years. Education is a slow build. Benefits are for years down the line; for a lifetime. Also, many prisoners are on long sentences and the primary criteria corrections departments and researchers look to – recidivism – can only be measured once a prisoner is released. The intangibles of a liberal arts education aren’t necessarily contributing to a measurable impact the next hour.
A general aura of skepticism surrounding arts and liberal arts education is compounded by the fact that research money often goes toward other prison programming (vocational, prison industries) and other evaluation first. We saw this was the case when the State of California stripped the DOC of its Arts-In-Corrections funding 7-years ago. In times of crisis, arts funding is first on the chopping block.
Despite no state funding, groups such as the William James Association continued, driven by volunteer efforts. The recent California budget has put millions back into the coffers earmarked for Arts-In-Corrections. The William James Association has returned to work in 11 state prisons.
The return was helped by the convincing results of a study, California Prison Arts Evaluation 2014, that was commissioned jointly by the William James Association and the California Lawyers for the Arts. You can download it here.
Here’s the results of the study and reason for bold claims.
The California Prison Arts Evaluation 2014 was a one-year study in four prisons revealing that arts programs improve prisoners’ behavior and their attitudes about themselves.
“A significant majority of inmates attribute their greater confidence and self-discipline to pursue other academic and vocational opportunities to their participation in arts programs, signaling a pathway for overall personal growth,” says the William James Association.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF RESEARCH
The author was Dr. Lawrence Brewster of the University of San Francisco who had, in 2012, completed a Qualitative Study of the California Arts In Corrections Program.
Prior to these two studies, there had been little research since a cost-benefit study in 1983, An Evaluation of the Arts-in-Corrections Program of the California Department of Corrections (also conducted by Brewster), which posited that society and the institutions benefited by reduced disciplinary actions, community service and beautification of the prisons.
It was high time someone brought the research up to date and dampened down naysayers and skeptics. Hopefully, the California Prison Arts Evaluation 2014 might spur other states to make a return to arts programming.
“Arts-in-prisons programs improve relationships between people within the prison as well as with guards and supervisory staff,” says the William James Association.” Prisoners exposed to arts programs are more likely to adjust to life outside prison and are less likely to become repeat offenders.”
‘Blind Curve’ (2010) © Felix Lucero
‘Lower Yard, San Quentin’ @ Ronnie Goodman
‘Baseball at Old Folsom Prison’ @ Ronnie Goodman
© Justus Evans
‘Obscuring Self’ © Rolf Kissman
‘Jazz In San Quentin’ @ Ronnie Goodman
‘Uphill Struggle’ @ Ronnie Goodman
The Cell & The Sanctuary opening, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, November 7th, 2014. Photo: Laurie Brooks / William James Association
‘Prison Boots’ @ Ronnie Goodman
Installation view of The Cell & The Sanctuary, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Photo: Laurie Brooks / William James Association
THE CELL AND THE SANCTUARY
The Cell and The Sanctuary features paintings, drawings, sculptures and writings by teachers, artists and organizations who are “working together within the prison system to provide a direct link between incarcerated individuals and something larger than their dehumanizing cells,” says SCMAH.
Artists including Ronnie Goodman, Justus Evans, Felix Lucero and Rolf Kissman (whose works are included in this post) are in the exhibition, as well as Ned Axthelm, Peter Bergne, Guillermo Willie, Stan Bey, Khalifah Christensen, Dennis Crookes, Isiah Daniels, Bruce Fowler, Henry Frank, Roy Gilstrap, Thomas Grider, Gary Harrell, Amy M. Ho, John Hoskings, David Johnson, Ben Jones, Richard Kamler, Chung Kao, Darryl Kennedy, Katya McCollah, Pat Messy, Omid Mokri, Gerald Morgan, Carol Newborg, Stan Newborg, James Norton, Eric “Phil” Phillips, Anthony Marco Ramirez, Adrienne Skye Roberts, Mark Stanley, Fred Tinsley, Tan Tran, Kurt Von Staden, Geno Washington, Michael Williams, Thomas Winfrey, and Noah Wright
It is on show November 7, 2014 – February 22, 2015