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Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration Opens at The Schomburg Center


For over a century, Harlem has been crucial for the convergence of art, cultural engagement, and Black freedom struggles.

Nicole Fleetwood, Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication
Illustration of an artist inmate working in his prison cell, a makeshift studio

Ronnie Goodman, San Quentin Arts in Corrections Art Studio, 2008. Photo: Peter Merts. Courtesy Laurie Brooks/ William James Association

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration will open to the public on May 1 at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Curated by James Weldon Johnson Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and 2021 MacArthur Fellow, Nicole R. Fleetwood, the exhibition documents the work of more than 30 artists, including people in prisons, formerly incarcerated artists, and work by nonincarcerated artists concerned with state repression, erasure, and imprisonment.

Marking Time features works that are shaped by their relationship to prison, punishment, and criminalization and bear witness to what Fleetwood calls “carceral aesthetics” rather than a form of therapy or “outsider art.” The artists in this exhibition reveal how incarceration transforms the fundamentals of living—time, space, and matter—and reimagine these changes to create new aesthetic possibilities. 

The exhibition is based on Fleetwood’s book of the same name published by Harvard University Press in 2020 — a decade-long study of the visual art and culture of contemporary prisons in the United States. The New York Times, The National Book Foundation, and the Smithsonian selected this book for their 2020 “best book”, and that same year it won the National Book Critics Award in Criticism. 

The exhibition has previously been on view at MoMA PS1, the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Brown University. 

Major support for Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration is provided by the Mellon Foundation and the Art for Justice Fund, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Additional funding is provided by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/NYPL.

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