Portraits of Mass Incarceration

My work has a strong social justice component to it, as I create images of people or groups who have been marginalized, discriminated against, or abused. The works provide faces to the historically faceless, nameless and powerless. They consist of large scale, hand-sewn quilts and hand-embroidered batik portraits. Using graphic representation of society’s forgotten members, my portraits shout, “See ME! Look At Me!” 

Over the last few years, I have come to realize the devastating impacts of mass incarceration by studying  academic research on the effects of a fanatically punitive system that is absurdly neglectful of the culture-wide causes of crime. Though these harsh consequences of neglect are felt disproportionately by poor people and communities of color, unrelenting mass incarceration tears at the heart of our society as a whole. Entire communities of our fellow Americans have been scarred, not only the incarcerated themselves, but family members and– especially–the children left behind. Sharing the compelling narratives of those impacted by mass incarceration is crucial to our understanding and vital to the health of the nation.

My practice is not only about documenting otherwise cast off lives but also making connections with people, and I have formed deep personal relationships with many of my subjects. As a white woman of middle class background, I believe that it is critical NOT to stay within my inherited traditions, bound as they are by race distinctions, colonialism, and patriarchy. The portraits bring muted voices before the public, letting them speak.To present so complete a record of its subjects as possible, every exhibition of the work includes a statement about, and often written by, the people portrayed; additionally, at various states of conceptualization and completion, I share a work in progress with the individual it represents, to make collaborative and inclusive the crystallization of the image. Requesting feedback and making changes accordingly, my process literally gives artistic power to those whose likenesses I am sewing and stitching. 



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