Galerie Bell exhibition highlights the impact of the criminal justice system

PROVIDENCE, RI [Brown University] — According to Nicole Fleetwood, spending time in prison can fundamentally change the way a person sees the world.

Fleetwood, a media and culture scholar at New York University, wanted more Americans to understand this. She therefore organized a traveling exhibition of art made by incarcerated people, alongside works by others whose lives have been affected by the prison system in one way or another – allowing the public to see how imprisonment can literally change perspectives. The exhibition debuted at MoMA PS1 in New York in 2020.

This fall, the critically acclaimed exhibit will travel to Brown University, where it will be exhibited at the David Winton Bell Gallery and the Cohen Gallery. Titled “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” it features paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works that highlight the monumental impact of the criminal justice system on all aspects of American society. .

The free public exhibition opens Friday, September 16 at the Bell and Cohen Galleries and ends Sunday, December 18. A handful of lectures and other events throughout fall 2022, co-hosted by the Brown Arts Institute, the African Studies Department, and other academic hubs on campus will accompany the exhibit.

Washington DC artist Larry Cook portrays the unique frustration of living a life largely removed from loved ones and familiar surroundings in “The Visiting Room #2”.

Researchers estimate that the number of Americans held in jails and prisons exceeds 2 million – more than any other country, both on a per capita basis and in absolute numbers. But Fleetwood said incarcerated people aren’t the only ones who have been transformed by the United States’ system of punishment and imprisonment.

“I think one of the most insidious ways the prison system affects most people in the United States is how easily we accept punitive governance as a way of life,” Fleetwood said. “We live under the constant threat of being punished for all sorts of things, big and small – not paying a bill on time, sending our kids to school late, not filling out a form in a certain way. So while millions of people may not be suffering behind bars, they are still an integral part of this system that allows the suffering of those who are held captive.”

That’s why, she said, she thinks it’s important for all Americans to understand how interactions with police, courts and correctional facilities can spark inner change. Many artists in the exhibition discuss how incarceration has altered their perception of the passage of time or changed their relationships with physical spaces.

Washington DC artist Larry Cook, for example, depicts the unique frustration of living a life largely removed from loved ones and familiar surroundings in “The Visiting Room #2,” a photo included in the exhibit. The main subject of the photo is a black man dressed in a combination of prison gear and streetwear, symbolizing how incarcerated people can feel caught between two worlds while talking to family and friends in the visiting rooms of the prison. In the photo, the man gazes at an airbrushed cityscape, symbolizing the common tendency of prisoners to seek escape by idealizing memories of the past or dreaming of a happier future.