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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Yvonne and Mike Nevens, Facebook Art Department, the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Adobe, Yellow Chair 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.