press release

Barring Freedom

October 30, 2020–April 25, 2021

The Institute of the Arts and Sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz (IAS), the San José Museum of Art (SJMA), and John Jay College of Criminal Justice are pleased to announce Barring Freedom, a new initiative on art, prisons, policing, and justice. With a contemporary art exhibition, participatory public art project, interactive website, and online event series, Barring Freedom engages audiences nation-wide around critical issues of mass incarceration, policing, and the ongoing struggles for racial and economic justice. Building on the legacy of research, education, and activism at UC Santa Cruz, including the contributions of Distinguished Professor Emerita Angela Y. Davis, the initiative highlights the important creative work underway by artists, activists, and scholars to imagine alternatives to current injustices. Programming is ongoing from October 2020 through July 2021.

At the center of Barring Freedom is a bi-coastal exhibition that will debut at the San José Museum of Art on October 30, 2020 and run through April 25, 2021. Solitary Garden, a participatory public art project made in collaboration between artist jackie sumell, UC Santa Cruz students, and Tim Young—who is currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison—will simultaneously be on view at UC Santa Cruz. Barring Freedom will travel to New York City, on view at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2021.

The artists in Barring Freedom were chosen for how their works engage the complex and historical social issues within the US criminal justice system.
Artists include: American Artist; Sadie Barnette; Sanford Biggers; Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick; Sonya Clark; Sharon Daniel; Maria Gaspar, Dee Hibbert-Jones; Ashley Hunt; Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts; Deana Lawson; Prison Renaissance; Sherrill Roland; Dread Scott; jackie sumell; Nomi Talisman; Hank Willis Thomas; Patrice Renee Washington; and Levester Williams. 

The exhibition will be supported by a series of online events on Visualizing Abolition, organized with Professor Gina Dent, feminist studies, UC Santa Cruz. With panel discussions, artist talks, and film screenings, the online events will emphasize the importance of the arts and creative practices in envisioning alternatives to ongoing injustices.

Visualizing Abolition will launch on October 20, 2020 with a conversation between noted prison abolitionists Angela Y. Davis and Gina Dent. Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative, will be featured on October 27, 2020 and online events will continue through May 2021.

“We have spent over four years talking with artists, activists, and scholars around the United States about prisons and policing and how the arts can bring light to these issues. We hope this program will add to the ongoing conversations and both highlight and inspire creative solutions to our humanitarian crisis,” said Rachel Nelson, interim director of UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences. “With more than two million incarcerated people, a majority of them Black or Brown, virtually all of them from poor communities—our prisons, jails, and detention centers reveal a troubled vision at the heart of the United States. Our goal for Barring Freedom is to forge a new path to end these profound injustices and galvanize broad public concern to address the broken promise of freedom and justice for all in the United States.”

“While Barring Freedom was conceptualized before the current crises, the unequal and ongoing effects of COVID-19 and the heightened public awareness of police killings of Black people in this country have brought into sharp relief the consequences of structural racism,” said Lauren Schell Dickens, senior curator at San José Museum of Art. “Artists are crucial to imagining our way out of these crises. Working in ways both poetic and visceral, the artists in Barring Freedom show that our current systems of oppression are neither natural nor inevitable, and in doing so, open up space for envisioning a future beyond mass incarceration.”

As Angela Davis cautions, reflecting on the current situation of mass incarceration and policing, “Dangerous limits have been placed on the very possibility of imagining alternatives.” It is with the urgency of the times that the exhibition underscores the importance of artists and creative practitioners in envisioning a world beyond the problems of policing and overflowing prisons that currently bar people from freedom in the United States.

Barring Freedom is co-organized by San José Museum of Art with UC Santa Cruz Institute of Arts and Sciences. Guest curated by Rachel Nelson and Alexandra Moore.