January 17, 2008

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Conversation starter
Traveling exhibit of artwork by and of mothers in prison comes to Saint Anselm
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

“Paintings, drawings, sculpture and photography make up “Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States.” The centerpiece of the art exhibit, which has toured colleges for about two years, is about 700 small works by incarcerated women in 37 facilities across the country, said Elaine M. Rizzo, professor of criminal justice at Saint Anselm College and co-chair of the Consortium on Justice and Society at the school’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

Interrupted Life is curated by Rickie Solinger, director and curator of WAKEUP/Arts in New York and author of four books about reproductive and welfare policy and politics in the United States.

Funded by the Ford Foundation, the exhibit comes to Saint Anselm College’s Chapel Arts Center from Thursday, Jan. 24, through Thursday, Feb. 21, from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The month will be packed with related lectures and discussions at the college. The Consortium on Justice and Society cosponsors.

The exhibit opened inside a California women’s prison in February of 2006 and is booked for several years at colleges and universities (Syracuse University is next). Solinger uses college galleries for what she calls “pedagogical interventions” — exhibits that instigate discussions, films or other active accompanying events.

“We think it’s important to focus on increasing awareness of the dramatic rise in incarnation of women, most of whom are mothers, and how it impacts children and families,” Rizzo said. Lectures and discussions at Saint Anselm will address the broader topic of imprisonment. They are also meant to bring attention to how over reliance on incarceration, as opposed to having a range of sanctions, impacts society as a whole.

“The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other industrialized county in the world,” Rizzo said. The U.S. also has the highest number of incarnated women.

“We’re hoping to get a public dialog [going] on what constitutes a just society,” Rizzo said. Panelists will include faculty, corrections staff and low-security prisoners.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have prisons,” Rizzo said, but she called them “an extremely expensive form of social control and public safety” and thinks it’s important to look at how they are used.

The centerpiece of Interrupted Life consists of 3-by-5-inch cards that were distributed in prisons across the country, including the State Prison for Women in Goffstown. Women were asked to draw, on the cards, expressions about mothering from behind bars.

Much of the work by other artists was commissioned except for two loaned series. There’s an enlarged set of comic book pages from The Real Costs of Prison project (realcostofprisons.org), under the direction of Lois Ahrens, headquartered in Northampton, Mass.; and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children of San Francisco lent some of their PhotoVoice images. In that project, recently released women take photos in the communities where they were arrested and work with a graphic artist to insert their silhouette and observations (www.prisonerswithchildren.org).

San Francisco artist Sashua Harris-Cronin was commissioned to create a piece representing prison rules governing visitation between parents and children.

Artist Kevin Pyle was commissioned to create a piece showing the distribution of prisons in the U.S. and “their astonishing density in certain places,” Solinger said. It reflects the amount of resources used for prisons, she said.

New York photographer Stephen Shames was commissioned to travel with a young girl from New York City to visit her mother in prison near the Canadian border. Often, jails are sited in rural areas to solve those areas’ employment problems, but that might mean they’re hundreds of miles from where a mother has been arrested, Solinger said. Mothers are far likelier to bring children to visit incarcerated fathers than anyone is to bring a child to see an imprisoned mother, Solinger said. Shames’ piece uses prison shirts to show drawings, diary entries and letters between the girl and her mother.

Sound designer Darryl Hell captures stories and sounds of incarceration, which play at low volume in the gallery.

University of California Press will publish Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States in about a year to complement the exhibit. Solinger’s core question as a historian is “who gets to be a legitimate mother in the United States?” Her traveling photo exhibit, “Beggars and Choosers,” focuses on that question.

Saint Anselm will host an additional display of artwork and narratives by women currently incarcerated in New Hampshire and a talk about perceptions of incarcerated women through art and literature. The New Hampshire Women’s Task Force on Addiction and Recovery is expected to provide a display regarding how addiction can lead to imprisonment and affect ability to reenter society, Rizzo said.

The exhibit opens with a guest lecture from Solinger on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 5 p.m. The gallery will be open at 6 p.m. for viewing.


“Stretched Thin: Irishtine and her Mother,” 2005, by Stephen Shames.

Interrupted Life
Saint Anselm College’s Chapel Arts Center is on its campus at 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester. Call 641-7470. NHIOP is at the corner of Saint Anselm Drive and Rockland Road. Call 222-4100.
• Thursday, Jan. 24, at 5 p.m., at Chapel Arts Center: Lecture from curator Rickie Solinger on “Making Incarceration Visible: Art, Exhibition, Social Justice, and Mothers in U.S. Prisons.”
• Thursday, Jan. 31, 1-2:15 p.m, at Chapel Arts Center: Saint Anselm faculty panel discussion on “The Intersection of Criminal & Social Justice.”
• Thursday, Jan. 31, at 5 p.m., at Chapel Arts Center: Lecture from Russ Immarigeon, MSW, editor of Women, Girls & Criminal Justice, “Challenging the Overuse of Incarceration in New England.”
• Wednesday, Feb. 6, 1:30-3:30 p.m., at Chapel Arts Center: Panel discussion on “Perceptions and Images of Incarceration, Take 1,” with Saint Anselm staff, New Hampshire State Prison for Women warden Joanne Fortier, and two currently incarcerated women.
• Thursday, Feb. 7, 1-2:15 p.m., at New Hampshire Institute of Politics auditorium: Panel discussion on “Perceptions and Images of Incarceration, Take 2,” with Saint Anselm English and Philosophy professors.
• Thursday, Feb. 7, at 5 p.m., at Chapel Arts Center: Lecture from Phyllis Kornfeld, author of Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America
• Thursday, Feb. 14, 1-2:15 p.m., at N.H. Institute of Politics Auditorium: Faculty panel on “Incarcerated Families and Communities.”
• Monday, Feb. 18, 7-8:15 p.m., at Perini Lecture Hall: Faculty panel on “Mercy and Punishment.”
• Tuesday, Feb. 19, 1-2:15 p.m., at Chapel Arts Center: Panel of “Women Who Work in Corrections.”
• Monday, Feb. 21, at 5 p.m., at N.H. Institute of Politics Auditorium: Ann Burgess, R.N., D.N.Sc., Professor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at Boston College, speaks on “False Imprisonment.” Burgess is an internationally recognized scholar, researcher and pioneer in the field of research and treatment for child, adolescent, adult and elderly victims of physical and sexual violence and exploitation..


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