How would you fill your days behind bars? The freedom that unbridled creativity represents may seem at odds with life incarcerated. But for those serving time, artistic expression may be the best way to cope and to shape the world around you.
Tameca Cole, Locked in a Dark Calm, 2016. Collage and graphite on paper. 8 1/2 x 11 inches. Collection Ellen Driscoll.
A new exhibition at MoMA PS1 examines the artwork of those currently or formerly incarcerated, as well as artists who have been impacted by the carceral system. Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration brings together the work of more than thirty-five artists whose diverse experiences and artworks have one thing in common: the prison system.
Sable Elyse Smith, Pivot II, 2019. Stainless steel with 2k painted finish. 56 x 56 x 56 in.
With millions of Americans behind bars and a reckoning around racial justice shaking the country, it is an apt time to listen to the voices and experiences of those incarcerated. In these works we see artists attempting to fill their days productively through laborious and intricate works.
Rowan Renee, No Spirit For Me (detail), 2019. Mixed-media installation. Dimensions variable.
With limited supplies and space, incarcerated artists often demonstrate incredible resourcefulness with their modes of expression.
James “Yaya” Hough, Portrait of Yaya, 2015. Acrylic on parachute cloth, 60 x 35 1/2 in x 1/2 ft. Collection Russell Craig.
We also see how finding refuge in a creative outlet can be life-altering, both while imprisoned and once returned to society.
Gilberto Rivera, An Institutional Nightmare, 2012. Federal prison uniform, commissary papers, floor wax, prison reports, newspaper, acrylic paint on canvas. 32.25 x 24.25 inches. Collection Jesse Krimes.
The exhibition includes works that reflect how COVID-19 has affected those imprisoned, a crisis that has brought to light some of the dysfunctions of the carceral system.
Mark Loughney, Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration, 2014-present. Graphite on paper (series of 500 drawings). Each 12 x 9 in.
The ways that imprisonment affects a person’s outlook and creative output are hard to fathom for those of us on the outside, and these impressive and diverse works demonstrate the resiliency of the incarcerated.
Dean Gillispie, Spiz’s Dinette, 1998. Tablet backs, stick pins, popsicle sticks, cigarette foil. 16 x 8 x 5 in.
Out of sight and often out of mind, it may not feel apparent that the massive American prison system is shaping our country and its culture. Marking Time serves to remind us that these voices and experiences are pervasive and present in much of American life.
Larry Cook, The Visiting Room #4, 2019. Digital photograph. 40 x 30 inches.
Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration is on view at the newly reopened MoMA PS1 through April 4, 2021.