Per(sister) Incarcerated Women in Louisiana: The Graduates
Until last year Louisiana was known as the “Incarceration Capital of the World.” With the exception of Oklahoma, our state tops every other state in its incarceration rate, and even outpaces many other nations, with about one in 75 adults in prison or jail at any given moment in Louisiana. Per the Sentencing Project, the number of incarcerated women in the United States increased more than 700 percent between 1980 and 2014. According to the ACLU only 18 percent of our female inmates have committed violent crimes and, today, about 80 percent of female inmates are mothers, 86 percent are survivors of sexual violence (according to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice). Newcomb Art Museum has partnered with formerly incarcerated women, community organizations, stakeholders, and those directly impacted by the prison system to create the exhibition Per(Sister), which is intended to share the stories of currently and formerly incarcerated women in Louisiana, and shine a light on the myriad issues as identified and expressed by the women themselves. The experiences of incarcerated women are often unknown, overlooked, dismissed, or misunderstood. Per(Sister) presents the personal and intimate stories, in their own voices and in their own terms, of women that persist in their drive for the integral survival of their mind, body, and soul. Some stories come to life through the pairing of a “persister” and an artist who created a work inspired by her story, other stories take the shape of voice recordings, self-portraits, or handwritten messages, all with the intention of challenging misconceptions and uninformed assumptions. By building awareness of the situations arising before, during and after incarceration, the exhibition Per(Sister) seeks to find common ground and pathways for society to empathetically move forward together. Spearheaded by formerly incarcerated women, the exhibition includes more than twenty projects created in partnership with local and national artists, community and university-based social and legal justice groups, as well as filmmakers, writers, and performers. Incorporating the voices of the women, academics and creatives alike, Per(Sister) examines themes such as the root causes of women’s incarceration, the social impact of long-term incarcerated mothers, the treatment of female bodies in jail and prison, and the challenges and opportunities of reentry for formerly incarcerated women. This will be the first in a series of three exhibitions at the Newcomb Art Museum exploring mass incarceration from a sustained point of view over the next decade. The exhibition at Newcomb will coincide with several city-wide programs, lectures, and opportunities for service that will inform and educate the community of the issues surrounding the criminal justice system. Syrita Steib-Martin and Dolfinette Martin are the museum’s equal partners in the creation and development of this exhibition together with museum director, Monica Ramirez-Montagut, and museum curator, Laura Blereau. Mellon Fellow for Community Engaged Scholarship Megan R. Flattley is the curatorial research assistant for the exhibition. The museum would like to thank our community partners Women with A Vision and Operation Restoration for their critical contributions in the development of this exhibition.