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How do you tell the history of a society in crisis? What does it mean to transform sites of injustice into spaces for art? Join us for a conversation about the relationship between museums and prisons, presented in conjunction with The Writing on the Wall and featuring Dr. Baz Dreisinger (who conceived the project together with her students at John Jay College and artist Hank Willis Thomas), Devon Simmons, and Matthew Wilson. The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Rachel Nelson, director of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Luke A. Fidler.
Emulating a prison cell, The Writing on the Wall at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) recreates these largely unseen spaces in a public sphere. The installation’s design references the palimpsest-like writing on the walls of prison cells and layers these onto opaque and transparent acrylic panels arranged in modules. The arrangement of the installation is based on measurements of cell blocks, providing a spatial context for visitors and immersing them in the words of the incarcerated. The writings were collected, with the authors’ permission, by Dr. Dreisinger during her years teaching in US and international prisons. As a presentation of the crisis of global criminal justice systems, these letters visually convey the narratives, thoughts, and emotions of the people behind bars.
The Writing on the Wall is organized by Rachel Nelson and Gina Dent in partnership with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History as part of Visualizing Abolition, a public scholarship initiative at UC Santa Cruz designed to shift the social attachment to prisons through art and education. Funding for Visualizing Abolition is provided by the Mellon Foundation.