Sunday, March 10, 2019

(Per)Sister: Louisiana's Incarcerated Women at Tulane University's Newcomb Art Museum

Much gets overlooked in a national political atmosphere that resembles a tacky Reality TV show, but some things have simmered below the surface for years. For instance, America's incarceration rate for women grew over 800% in recent decades, and is worse in Louisiana thanks to our draconian “repeat offender” law. Most of our incarcerated women were jailed for non-violent crimes, and many are single mothers. Some 12% of Louisiana children now have a jailed parent. How did we get here? That dark history is explored in this "(Per)Sister" expo in the stories of over female 30 veterans of our prison system in collaboration with area artists. If that sounds grim, many of the works on view are quite engaging, with an aura of transcendence enlivened by a haunting soundtrack collaboration of Lynn Drury, Sarah Quintana, Queen Koldmadina, Spirit McIntyre, Margie Perez, and Keith Porteous.*

Butch Frosch's painting “Tremica's Courage,” top right, is a representation of Tremica Henry's separation from her three year old daughter, an image that, for emphasis, utilizes a pop art style that Frosch associates with white America. Lee Deigaard's mixed media “Persister Moon,” above, depicts a blood moon embellished with white flowers and metal mesh symbolizing prison births. The vibrant color patterns of Carl Joe Williams' installation invokes African cultural memory as a backdrop to Dolfinette Martin's story of her early incarceration and her later work on behalf of at risk young women. Epaul Julien's painting, “13th,” top, portrays Dolita Wilhike as an Angela Davis look-alike superimposed on an American flag where the stripes are images of chains, chain gangs and prisoners that implicitly question the actual legacy of the Constitution's 13th Amendment. Rontherin Ratliff's imposing “Queen” sculpture, above left, is a stylized chess piece that symbolizes the complicated process of Bobbie Jean Johnson's exoneration after decades of imprisonment, while Ma-Po Kinnard's ceramic “Aya” sculpture, based on an iconic West African deity of endurance, surveys these stories from the spirit realm, symbolically transcending oceans, continents and centuries. ~Bookhardt / "(Per)Sister: Incarcerated Women of Louisiana,” Through July 6, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328. *Featured in a free concert on Friday, March 22 at 6 pm, at the Newcomb Art Museum.