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'Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration' now open at Brown University
Sable Elyse Smith, Landscape V, 2020. Neon. 37 x 178 in (93.98 x 452.12 cm). Photo: Charles Benton. Courtesy of the artist, JTT, New York, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Carlos/Ishikawa, London.



PROVIDENCE, RI.- The David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University has opened Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, an acclaimed exhibition exploring the profound cultural influence of the U.S. prison system through the work of artists who are or have been incarcerated, alongside work by advocates and family members affected by carceral systems. Seen together, the works explore how predatory policing, surveillance, and mass imprisonment impact everyday life for millions of people, offering new ways to envision art and to understand the reach and effects of the U.S. carceral state. The comprehensive exhibition spans spaces in the Bell Gallery and Cohen Gallery.

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration is organized by curator Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood, NYU Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, and exhibition coordinator Steven G. Fullwood, an archivist, writer, curator, and visual artist; with the support of NYU graduate researchers Anisa Jackson and Xavier Hadley. Originally debuted at MoMA PS1 in 2020, Marking Time is on view in Providence through December 18, 2022.

The works in the exhibition explore how incarceration transforms the fundamentals of living—time, space, and matter—and reimagine these changes to create new aesthetic possibilities. These artworks illuminate what curator Fleetwood calls “carceral aesthetics,” relational and artistic experiments that challenge the “inside/outside” logic of imprisonment through innovative modes of relating that refute the dehumanization, isolation, and erasure that prisons engender. This includes the use of creative, found materials such as gum wrappers and commissary papers in many of the artists’ works, which were often created covertly—fulfilling a desire to create and express despite the risk of potential retribution. As someone who was herself affected by the prison system, Fleetwood conceived this project with a desire to reshape the general understanding of the impact of incarceration and how it transforms people’s perspectives.




“I think one of the most insidious ways that the carceral system impacts most people in the U.S. is the ease with which we accept punitive governance as a way of life,” Fleetwood said. “We live under the constant threat of being punished for all kinds of matters big and small — not paying a bill on time, sending our children to school late, not filing a form in a certain way. I hope that that people walk away with more concern about, and dare I say curiosity to explore, the depth, reaches and entanglements of the carceral system, and that they feel emboldened to hold accountable entities that benefit from punishment industries.”

“It is important that we give the Brown community and greater Providence region an opportunity to see Marking Time and to explore how American visual culture is impacted by the carceral system and grapple with the issues it raises,” said Kate Kraczon, the recently appointed Brown Arts Institute exhibitions director and chief curator. “This exhibition is demonstrative of the kinds of programs the Brown Arts Institute brings to campus to foster exploration through the arts and deeper engagement with the major issues of our day.”

Community programs will complement the exhibition throughout the fall, including artist-led tours, discussion panels, film screenings, and more. Lisa Biggs, an assistant professor of the arts and Africana Studies at Brown, is organizing a corresponding fall discussion about the criminal legal system’s impact on Rhode Island families, and is also spearheading an effort to purchase and distribute children’s books about the challenges families face when they are separated by incarceration, created by organizer and educator Mariame Kaba. Biggs is also working with the university’s John Hay Library to mount a related fall exhibition of poetry by current and formerly incarcerated people. See all upcoming events at brown.edu.

The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Brown’s Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre, and will be accompanied by a dynamic series of public programs. Learn more about the exhibition at: markingtimeart.com

Major support for Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration is provided by the Mellon Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Additional funding is provided by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; NYU’s Department of Media, Culture and Communication; and Brown University.

Special thanks to MoMA PS1; American Friends Service Committee’s Prison Watch Program; Center for Transformative Action, Cornell University; Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles; Independent Curators International (ICI); JTT, New York; Justice Arts Coalition; Malin Gallery, New York; Ohio Justice and Policy Center; Prisoner Express; William James Association; Women on the Rise!; and The Fleetwood Family.










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