I have seen how change begins through healing and as an art therapist and educator, I am deeply interested in creating space for healing. I often ask myself, what does community healing look like? What space needs to be opened for this to happen, and what modality best serves that opening? These questions are at the very heart of the value of therapeutic art. Art so powerful it possesses the maker and the witness in the process of change ... of healing.
In the late Spring of 2019, I had the pleasure of meeting professor, cultural theorist, writer, and curator, Nicole Fleetwood, a person who speaks to these questions in a way that transcends not only language but time. During her keynote presentation at The Arts in Corrections: Reframing the Landscape of Justice conference at Santa Clara University, I learned more about the insightful spaces she creates. Spaces that dismantle oppressive systems through her robust writing, educational, and curatorial practices. She continues to explore and bring visibility to ethnic, racial, and gendered hierarchies cemented in the criminal justice system.
Nicole is just as concerned with how she tells a story as she is with what that story is. As those who’ve ever stood in awe in front of a work of art, hearing, seeing, feeling, knowing without a single utterance understands –you don’t always need verbal language to tell a story. Oftentimes, with art, the visual becomes the verbal. The image gives language to the soul in ways that the words not only cannot but should not, for they are only a fragment of the understanding of what the material, the composition, the metaphor can achieve. This is the language given around a visual experience.
Oftentimes, with art, the visual becomes the verbal
After personal experiences with incarcerated family members, Nicole began hanging up photographs of loved ones incarcerated as not only a remembrance, but a rejection of the erasure targeted criminalization aims to achieve. This personal exercise gave birth to her latest book project, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Her new book, available April 28, examines a range of visual art practices emerging inside prisons, including photography, painting, and collaborative works with arts organizations and commissioned artists.
Works of art created both in and outside of prison serve to make space for people to thrive, the antithesis of prison, while also addressing social inequity and providing psychic reprieve. The work contained in Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, gives visibility to those who have been racially profiled, arrested, detained, and incarcerated. In many ways, art is to time as time is to the ways in which it dismantles targeted criminalization. Nicole’s work not only bears witness and gives visibility, but challenges the assumed familiarity with stereotypes created to stigmatize communities of color. Bringing art centered around experience with prison to light allows others to bear witness existence – making space which is healing, powerful, and the catalyst for radical change.
- Chloe Hayward