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Representation and reflection on projects

abby rose's picture


abby rose's picture

The first idea that really grabbed at me in the beginning of my involvement in the Bi-Co/Prison partnership was the notion of “good” and “bad” people. I have had great difficulty imagining a situation in which I should stop seeing humans as deserving of humanity, even after committing terrible acts or being convicted of certain crimes. I wondered what compelled me to continue to see people as people, why I could empathize with even the cruelest individuals. The further I thought about it, I realized that the complexity of each person’s identity and history was what made this humanity possible. It is impossibility for any person to be inherently evil or bad to the bone, so I can never justify the denial of any person’s capacity for love and growth.

            When Sheila was introduced into our 360 crew, I was moved by the art that she shared with us. I encountered many projects that offered a glimpse into the mystery, personality, history, and complexity of individuals who had been convicted of crimes. Some of these projects included descriptions of the crimes that individuals committed, and some did not. When they did include the crimes, the “evil” of these acts was countered by an intimate look at each person; when they did not include the crimes, the only representation offered of the individuals was their humanness. Either way, all of the artistic projects I encountered moved me in some way and reinforced my belief in the humanity of people. I wanted to share some of the works that influenced me the most with the world outside of the prison system. I think it can be too easy for people outside of the PIC to write off individuals who commit certain kinds of crimes, and the works I chose were an attempt to force those outsiders to look into the hearts of the people who have been convicted and condemned by society.

            I originally envisioned a much larger scope of my project that included a long paper/report of the process of dehumanization that occurs when people are assigned as “criminals,” complete with histories of the PIC, the criminalization of different identities, and the psychological, social, and legal ramifications of being labeled as criminal. However, when I thought about our exhibit as a whole, I did not think that I needed to be so complete in my explanation of a “criminal” identity – our combined works do a really effective job at that. So, I decided instead to focus solely on three artists that deeply impressed me and elaborate on exactly how each artist deconstructs the “criminal” identity that contributes to the “us” vs. “them,” “good” vs. “bad” mentality of many outsiders.

abby rose's picture

            In this project, meerajay and I were attempting to build connections between the racism in the prison industrial complex and the racism experienced on our own campus. Since so much of the conversations on campus lately have echoed the “over policed, under protected” slogan of the movements happening across the country in relation to discrimination of law enforcement, it seemed an obvious and important connection to highlight. By juxtaposing the commentary of our exhibit with the testimonies of our classmates in a recent SGA meeting that discussed the posters and protests on campus, we thought we could draw attention to the pervasive racism in law enforcement; this showed that these issues and conversations occurring on college campuses across the nation are so relevant and deserve to be taken seriously, not trivialized.

            We read through the SGA minutes from two meetings and compiled a list of quotations that clearly addressed the deep seated institutional racism at BMC, and ordered them in a way that produced a narrative echoing what we learned this semester in our 360. One of the quotes that we read from a student mentioned the humanity of every person in the room and the love that is necessary to create change. Upon revisiting this comment, meerajay and I immediately thought of Paulo Freire and his emphasis on the importance of love to create dialogue and initiate change within and across communities. So, we included a passage from his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed to bring love into the conversation.

In the end, we titled our piece “Rebuilding Foundations With Love: Connections to Our Community.” During the opening event, I was showing the final piece to a student that we quoted extensively in our project; she was the one who actually inspired the title with her call to love. Meerajay joined us, and asked what she thought about the inclusion of the word “love” in the title. She said that she really appreciated us focusing on love as a point of progress and we further talked about our inspiration and gratitude for all that our peers have shared over the past several months with the greater BMC community. It was a memorable moment for me, and I am thankful for the chance to strengthen the connection between what we have learned as a 360 and bring it right into our home at Bryn Mawr.