ABOVE PHOTO: ‘Free Marissa’, 2015 by Cristy Road
By Kendall Alexander
February 26th marked the Leeway Foundation’s opening night of art exhibit “Release: An Exhibition and Program Series on Gender Justice and Mass Incarceration”. This riveting exhibit seeks to raise awareness on a subject that doesn’t get as much coverage as it should—women incarceration. The various mediums show women from all walks of life who have been behind bars or are currently serving sentences in the prison system for crimes of self-defense.
Curated by Chicago based activists Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor who both work to end youth incarceration and with rape and domestic violence crisis centers. The pair want to make it known that the message behind the art is to create a safe space for lesbians, transgender, women, activists, minorities, activists, and artists alike to dialogue and affect change for women involved in the prison industrial complex. Kaba and Caidor collect documents, posters, newspapers and more from cases involving women who found themselves a victim of the American justice system for defending their lives or the lives of their children.
With over 20 pieces on display and a few for purchase, “Release” features the stories of the women to the side of the works, detailing the incident that occurred and how long they were incarcerated for and whether they received national media attention or not. There is also an audio video display that features the artists of the pieces explaining the women’s stories.
This exhibit was especially chilling to me because these women had been mothers, children, daughters and wives doing their best to maintain femininity and daily activities when they were assaulted, or beaten or verbally abused, causing them to react in ways that would save their lives. Marissa Alexander was one of the women featured along with Celia, a slave woman who killed her owner to stop the abuse on her body. This exhibit definitely creates a space to express how the art affects each individual.
The Leeway Foundation and The Bread & Roses Community Fund are working in partnership to bring this exhibit to the public. The Leeway Foundation brings artistic expression to the community to spark social and economic justice. The Bread & Roses Community Fund provides grants and technical assistance to inner city communities to encourage economic and racial justice.
“Release” is on exhibit at the Leeway Foundation in the Philadelphia Building at 1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832 in Center City Philadelphia from now until June 30th. Gallery hours are by appointment only, so for more information, call 215-545-4078.
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