Barring Freedom

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    In a gallery is a wooden structure, resembling a tiny room. It has a door of intersecting vertical and horizontal wooden bars. Its inner walls are white with black outlines of obscured items. To the right is a painting of distorted, black and white vertical lines.

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    In a gallery is a wooden structure resembling a tiny room. To the left are 3 short wooden crates with prints of horizontal landscapes on top of them. On the walls are 2 framed black and white artworks. Towards the gallery's center, a doorless entryway leads to a shadowy room.

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    Four short wooden crates have landscape prints resting on them. A wooden structure resembling a tiny room is further back in the gallery. The structure's front has intersecting wooden bars, revealing black outlines of furniture inside. On the walls are framed black and white artworks.

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    A narrow, bronze sculpture on a small pedestal is in front of a black wall. It resembles a three-legged humanoid with tall, exaggerated proportions, particularly in its neck and torso. To the sculpture's left, 5 vertical panels of various sizes sit on top of a circular rug.

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    A school desk and chair with an attached riot shield face towards a TV. A glowing, ghostly, blue bust of a figure is seen on the TV, staring with empty eyes towards the desk. A blank black chalkboard is situated on the wall next to the desk,

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    Two American flags embroidered with text. The left flag is pinned to the wall. The right flag is gently draped across a stool, as though someone just stopped embroidering. Between the 2 flags is a large TV with a white screen and small text reading "Justice."

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    An off-white gallery wall is barren except for a small, metal pull-up bar positioned on the wall's left, midway to the ceiling. In the upper right quadrant, eight black trapeze pull up bars hang from chains on the ceiling and cast faint shadows onto the gallery wall.

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    An orange jumpsuit hangs on an off-white wall. On the floor, orange tape forms a square about 10 feet wide, with a corner pointed at the jumpsuit. Small framed artworks hang on the wall. At the end of the gallery, an American flag hangs upside down.

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

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    An off-white wall displays a long-sleeved white shirt, a tablet screen, and a small artwork encased in a plexiglass cube. The shirt has three black, feathered lines on its left side that extends vertically from the shoulders down to the bottom.

    Installation photography of Barring Freedom on view Oct 30, 2020–Apr 25, 2021 at San José Museum of Art. Photo by J. Arnold, Impart Photography.

co-organized with UC Santa Cruz Institute of Arts and Sciences. Guest curated by Rachel Nelson and Alexandra Moore

Barring Freedom features works by twenty US-based artists that challenge how individuals see and understand our nation’s prison industrial complex—a nexus of policing, surveillance, detention, and imprisonment.

While this group show was conceptualized before the current crises, first COVID-19, with its ongoing and unequal effects, and then the brutal onslaught of police killings of Black people in the United States, these recent events have brought into sharp relief the horrific consequences of mass incarceration in the US, which has the highest number of jailed individuals across developed nations.

With more than two million incarcerated individuals, a majority Black or brown and virtually all from poor communities, the prison industrial complex reveals a troubled nation. Barring Freedom considers the strategies artists use to reveal this racist worldview and the social problems that it effectively creates and obscures. It also highlights alternative visions and future dreamscapes offered by these artists as a counter to the brutalities of our current reality.

Barring Freedom is inspired by the teachings of noted prison abolitionist and scholar Dr. Angela Y. Davis:

“When we are told that we simply need better police and better prisons, we counter with what we really need…We need to be able to reimagine security, which will involve the abolition of policing and imprisonment as we know them…[and] reinvent entire worlds.”

This exhibition underscores the urgency and importance of artists in envisioning a world beyond racist policing, biased courts, and overflowing prisons. Dr. Davis has called for a “great feat of the imagination" to realize dreams of freedom and end the injustices of the carceral system. The artists in Barring Freedom respond to that call.

Featured artists include: American Artist, Sadie Barnette, Sanford Biggers, Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, Sonya Clark, Sharon Daniel, Maria Gaspar, Ashley Hunt, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts, Deana Lawson, Sherrill Roland, Dread Scott, jackie sumell, Hank Willis Thomas, Patrice Renee Washington, and Levester Williams.


Donate to the SJMA Exhibitions Fund

Web Resource

The Barring Freedom website provides digital tools and study guides to further explore issues of art and justice. It includes video interviews with the artists, thematic study guides, an archive of past Visualizing Abolition programs, a special music track by Terri Lyne Carrington and Social Science, as well as information about the exhibition and Solitary Garden public art project.

Tim Young

To learn more about Tim Young, our collaborator who is currently in San Quentin State Prison, click here.

Reading List for Barring Freedom

Compiled by librarian Tiffany E. Garcia, Elizabeth Allen, and San José's Public Library’s Racial Equity Team. See the reading list here.

Support

Barring Freedom is supported by the SJMA Exhibitions Fund, with contributions from Glenda and Gary Dorchak and Rita and Kent Norton. The exhibition is made possible with generous support from the Nion McEvoy Family Fund, Ford Foundation, Future Justice Fund, UC Santa Cruz Foundation, Wanda Kownacki, Peter Coha, James L. Gunderson, Rowland and Pat Rebele, UC Santa Cruz Porter College, and annual donors to the Institute of the Arts and Sciences.

Operations and programs at the San José Museum of Art are made possible by generous support from the Museum's Board of Trustees, a Cultural Affairs Grant from the City of San José, the Lipman Family Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, Yvonne and Mike Nevens, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, The Yellow Chair Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the SJMA Director's Council and Council of 100, the San José Museum of Art Endowment Fund established by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and The William Randolph Hearst Foundation.


Logos of the City of San José and the David Lucile and Packard Foundation

Press

A Critical View of the Criminal Justice System, Through Artists’ Eyes, Hyperallergic
November 18, 2020

Death row inmate designs garden installation by instructing university students through letters, The Art Newspaper
January 8, 2021

Exhibits convey incarcerated artists’ spirit: ‘No matter what I did … there’s beauty inside me’, SF Chronicle Datebook
March 17, 2021

10 artists who shed light on mass incarceration, SF Chronicle Datebook
March 17, 2021

The ‘Cult' and Contradictions of the American Flag, NBC LX
March 26, 2021

Museum Highlights, SF/ARTS
March 30, 2021