'Criminal' artistic intent
February 27, 2008 -- Fourteen nationally recognized artists, using materials ranging from slices of bologna to prison-made campus office furniture, address issues about the prison industrial complex in a new exhibition hosted by the Fine Arts Gallery. "Criminal: Art and Criminal Justice in America," on display through March 15, offers a range of aesthetic interpretations regarding the growing debate about criminal justice in America. "Prison/Culture: Art, Ideas and Dialogue," a March 1 symposium at the Gallery, will feature internationally renowned scholar and activist Angela Y. Davis as keynote speaker.
"This is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in California, with a focus on incarceration instead of rehabilitation," said Mark Johnson, Fine Arts Gallery director. The "Criminal" exhibit addresses both sides of criminal justice through painting, photography, sculpture, sound, video and miscellaneous materials.
The visiting artists worked with undergraduate and graduate students in Johnson's course in exhibition design to install the artists' works. "Professional artists help students learn how to focus on very difficult topics in fine art," Johnson said, adding that the collaborative effort reflects the University's motto of experientia docet, "experience teaches." Later in the semester, students will use these experiences to develop and present their own exhibition on a topic of their choice.
"Criminal/Victim" by professional artist Rigo 23, features products of California prison labor -- many of them desks and chairs used by the University -- as well as sculptures made by prisoners during their free time. "They do slave labor, but then they do things of their own initiative. Those objects have some sort of redemption in them," Rigo 23 said. "The ability to invent a big world in a small space is something that is very treasured."
Julie Green's "The Last Supper" showcases a series of 383 china plates, each painted with the last meal of a prisoner condemned to death row. Also using food as a theme, William Pope.L's "Setting the Table" multimedia installation features portraits of the alleged 9/11 terrorists printed on individual slices of bologna, hung to dry on a clothesline.
"This is very humanizing work," said Sharon Bliss, Fine Arts Gallery manager and co-curator of the exhibit. "Food is this common denominator for all of us."
The "Criminal" exhibit is supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, LEF Foundation and SF State's International Center for the Arts and Instructionally Related Activities Fund. "Prison/Culture: Art, Ideas and Dialogue" sponsors include the Fine Arts Gallery, Intersection for the Arts and SF State's Criminal Justice Program , Project Rebound, Poetry Center and Associated Students Inc.
Admission to all events is free. Reservations for the "Prison/Culture: Art, Ideas and Dialogue" symposium are now closed. The March 1 events will include panel discussions, Davis’ keynote address and original performances from saxophonist Howard Wiley's the Angola Project and Intersection for the Arts. Funding for the event comes from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund. For more information, contact the Fine Arts Gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org or (415) 338-6535.
-- Student Writer Lisa Rau with Nan Broadbent
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