February 21 – May 9, 2020
Exhibition Opening Event: Monday, March 2, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
NEW YORK / January 27, 2020—The Ford Foundation Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana on Friday, February 21, with an opening event on Monday, March 2, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. The gallery space at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice is dedicated to presenting multidisciplinary art, performance, and public programming by artists committed to exploring issues of justice and injustice. The gallery is open to the public and admission is free. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana explores one of the most critical issues of inequality and injustice facing our nation today through the lens of a population too often overlooked. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, women’s state prison populations in the U.S. have grown 834 percent over the past 40 years—with Louisiana currently having the 19th-highest rate of incarcerated women in the world.
Per(Sister) originated at the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University (NAM) under the leadership of museum director Monica Ramirez-Montagut assisted by curator Laura Blereau, and was developed in equal partnership with Syrita Steib and Dolfinette Martin with additional support provided by Operation Restoration and Women with a Vision. The exhibition presents works from more than 30 artists who created new pieces based on the personal stories of 30 formerly and currently incarcerated women—persisters—as interviewed by museum staff. Per(Sister) aims to look beyond the statistics and bring the faces, names, and personal stories to light as a way to comprehend the injustice of the criminal justice system in the United States.
Per(Sister) seeks to educate and build awareness of the crucial situations arising before, during, and after incarceration. Stories of loss, hope, despair, survival, triumph, and persistence are shared in a variety of forms, demonstrating simultaneously the universal struggles faced by communities impacted by incarceration and the personal resilience of each woman featured. The exhibition is divided into four sections that explore the root causes of female incarceration, the impact of incarcerating mothers, the physical and behavioral toll of incarceration, and the challenges of and opportunities for reentry for formerly incarcerated women. These four themes bring together diverse works—including voice recordings, photographic portraits, informative illustrations, sculptures, paintings, songs, and performances—and serve as an entry point into each woman’s story, creating a cohesive exhibition that incorporates the voices of the persisters and artists alike while highlighting powerful statistics collected from the Vera Institute of Justice, Prison Policy Initiative, the Sentencing Project, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and others. Per(Sister) also benefited from the expertise of more than 150 individuals from Tulane University’s faculty and students, individuals directly impacted, and community stakeholders who through community gatherings contributed time and knowledge to the exhibition.
Among the data emphasized in the exhibition are the percentage of incarcerated women who are mothers (80 percent), who struggle with mental health problems (67 percent), who are victims of abuse (86 percent), and who are in jail for nonviolent offenses (86 percent), all of which underlines how jails and prisons have become mass containers without the necessary supports for rehabilitation for struggling communities. These statistics are humanized by the stories and voices of the women as seen in text and heard in audio. Per(Sister) aims to use art as a vehicle for communicating the myriad issues as identified and expressed by the women and challenge misconceptions and uninformed assumptions about female incarceration.
“We are grateful to the Newcomb Art Museum, persisters, partners, and artists in the exhibition who give voice to the crisis of the carceral state of this nation and specifically highlight the impact of incarceration on women,” says gallery director Lisa Kim. “Female incarceration gives an unfortunate summary of the multiplicity of injustices and the deep generational impact on the most vulnerable communities.”
“For a museum looking to address social justice issues through the lens of arts as NAM does, and being aware of Louisiana’s recent reputation as the ‘incarceration capital of the world,’ it seems only reasonable to look into the prison industrial complex, one of the most critical issues affecting our immediate communities,” says museum director Monica Ramirez-Montagut. “The objective of this art exhibition is to informally educate the visitors on the human experience of those that have encountered the justice system. This is more than an art exhibition, it’s a community platform that brings together more than 150 collaborators for the benefit of its community, to heal and move forward together.”
“I want for everyone who comes to the exhibit to see us through the art and to understand what brought us here. We don’t look for excuses, we just need you to understand … that I’m just like you. I’m a human being and my crime isn’t who I am. It doesn’t even begin to explain who I am,” says Dolfinette Martin, persister and operations manager at Operation Restoration.
“It’s important that this exhibition is focusing on women,” says Syrita Steib, persister and co-executive director of Operation Restoration, “because the role of a woman is not to just take care of everybody else. She has to first take care of herself, be her best self, and then she’s highly functioning and able to take care of everybody else. But if we never focus on just the woman, her as an individual, the problem is never solved. Women make the world go round, women raise children, women change hearts, souls, and minds with compassion and being caregivers. But nobody ever deals with them in that same manner. So that’s why we’re very intentional about focusing on the woman and what she needs.”
More information about the exhibition may be found at www.persister.info.
A series of curator-led tours and performances will accompany the exhibition. The schedule will be posted on www.fordfoundation.org/gallery.
Featured artist pairings in Per(Sister):
Persister Andrea Martin with artist Henrietta Mantooth; Persister Bobbie Jean Johnson with artist Rontherin Ratliff; Persister Carmen Holmes with musician Keith Porteous; Persister Chasity Hunter with filmmaker Kira Akerman; Persister Danielle Metz with artist Sheila Phipps; Persister Desiree’ Morrison with artist Ron Bechet; Persister Dianne Jones with artist Nubian OmiSayade Sun; Persister Dolfinette Martin with artist Carl Joe Williams; Persister Dolita Wilhike with artist Epaul Julien; Persister Earlneishka Johnson with artist Lee Deigaard; Persister Fox Rich with artist L. Kasimu Harris; Persister Gilda Caesar with artist Keith Duncan; Persister Kimberly Shields with musician Margie Perez; Persister Kiwanda Nelson with musician Kimberly Rivers-Roberts AKA Queen Black Kold Madina; Persister Kristina Lopez with artist Ana Hernandez; Persister Lea Stern with artist Devin Reynolds; Persister Mary McLeod with musician Lynn Drury; Persister Nicole Edwards with artist Maria Hinds; Persister Ruby Barnes with musician Sarah Quintana; Persister Shai Parker with artist MaPó Kinnord; Persister Shondolyn Murray with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra; Persister Syrita Steib with artist Anastasia Pelias; Persister Tonja Isaac with artist Amy Elkins; Persister Tremica Henry with artist Butch Frosch; Persister Tywanda Major with musician Lynn Drury; Persister Veronique Williams with musician Spirit McIntyre; Persister Wendi Cooper with artist Tammy Mercure; Persister Wilkeitha Washington with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra; Persister Yolanda Ford with artist Ryn Wilson; Persister Zina Mitchell with artist Cherice Harrison-Nelson. Additional artists include Persister Brandi Holmes, Allison Beondé, jackie sumell, Taslim van Hattum, and The Graduates.
ABOUT THE FORD FOUNDATION GALLERY
Opened in March 2019 at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice in New York City, the Ford Foundation Gallery aims to shine a light on artwork that wrestles with difficult questions, calls out injustice, and points the way toward a fair and just future. Our hope is for this to be a responsive and adaptive space, one that serves the public in its openness to experimentation, contemplation, and conversation. Located near the United Nations, the space is situated to draw visitors from around the world—and address questions that cross borders and speak to the universal struggle for human dignity.
The gallery is located inside the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice and is accessible to the public through an entrance on 42nd Street, east of Second Avenue. The gallery is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm.
For information about the Ford Foundation Gallery and its exhibitions, please contact:
Olu & Company
1 (646) 330-1039
For information about the Ford Foundation, please contact:
1 (212) 573-5128
Ford Foundation Gallery
320 East 43rd Street
New York, NY 10017
Monday – Saturday 11AM – 6PM
The Ford Foundation
The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
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