October 20, 2020-April 25, 2021: Barring Freedom

Hank Willis Thomas, If the Leader Only Knew, 2014
Hank Willis Thomas, If the Leader Only Knew, 2014 © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Barring Freedom is a group exhibition of contemporary art organized by UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS) with San José Museum of Art.

Curated by Dr. Rachel Nelson, IAS Director, and Alexandra Moore, IAS Curatorial Fellow, Barring Freedom features works which aim to challenge the dominant ways people see and understand the complex nexus of policing, surveillance, detention, and imprisonment that makes up the nation’s prison industrial complex. With more than two million incarcerated people, a majority of them black or brown, virtually all of them from poor communities, the prison industrial complex reveals a troubled vision at the heart of the United States. Barring Freedom considers the strategies artists use to reveal this unjust worldview and confront the social problems it serves to obscure.

Artists: American Artist, Sadie Barnette, Sanford Biggers, Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, Sonya Clark, Sharon Daniel, Maria Gaspar, Ashley Hunt, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts, Deana Lawson, Sherrill Roland, Dread Scott, jackie sumell, Hank Willis Thomas, Patrice Renee Washington, Prison Renaissance, and Levester Williams

Watch Angela Davis and Gina Dent in conversation with Rachel Nelson about art, abolition, and imagining a world without prisons at San José Museum of Art.


The Barring Freedom website provides digital tools and study guides to further explore issues of art and justice. It includes video interviews with the artists, thematic study guides, an archive of related "Visualizing Abolition" programs, "Music for Abolition", a special series of music videos curated by Terri Lyne Carrington , as well as other resources.

Solitary Garden is a participatory public sculpture and garden project at UC Santa Cruz created by award-winning artist jackie sumell in collaboration with Tim Young, currently on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison as he fights to prove his innocence in the California appellate court system. Learn more about the project here.

Barring Freedom is supported by the SJMA Exhibitions Fund, with contributions from Glenda and Gary Dorchak and Rita and Kent Norton. The exhibition is made possible with generous support from the Nion McEvoy Family Trust, Ford Foundation, Future Justice Fund, Wanda Kownacki, Peter Coha, James L. Gunderson, Rowland and Pat Rebele, Porter College, UC Santa Cruz Foundation, and annual donors to the Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

A Critical View of the Criminal Justice System, Through Artists’ Eyes, Hyperallergic
November 18, 2020

Death row inmate designs garden installation by instructing university students through letters, The Art Newspaper
January 8, 2021

Exhibits convey incarcerated artists’ spirit: ‘No matter what I did … there’s beauty inside me’, SF Chronicle Datebook
March 17, 2021

10 artists who shed light on mass incarceration, SF Chronicle Datebook
March 17, 2021

The ‘Cult' and Contradictions of the American Flag, NBC LX
March 26, 2021

Museum Highlights, SF/ARTS
March 30, 2021


Visualizing Abolition with Angela Y. Davis and Gina Dent
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Images, Memory, and Justice with Bryan Stevenson
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
4-5:30pm PDT

Visuality and Carceral Formations with Nicole Fleetwood, Herman Gray, and Nicholas Mirzoeff
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Abolition Then and Now with Isaac Julien and Robin D.G. Kelley
Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Prisons, Histories, and Erasures with Joanne Barker, Maria Gaspar, and Kelly Lytle Hernández
Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Prisons and Poetics with Reginald Dwayne Betts and Craig Haney
Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Surveillance and Cinematics with American Artist, Simone Browne and Ruha Benjamin
Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Material and Memory: Sanford Biggers and Leigh Raiford
Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Abolitionist Feminisms with Beth Ritchie, Erica Meiners, and Sonya Clark
Tuesday, February 23, 2021

(Re)Enacting Revolution with Dread Scott and Erin Gray
Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Futures with Sora Han, adrienne maree brown and Savannah Shange
Tuesday, May 11, 2021


PDF: Barring Freedom 

Friday, October 23, 2020 to Tuesday, June 1, 2021