The Writing on the Wall // Santa Cruz MAH

An international exhibition of writing by persons experiencing incarceration by Hank Willis Thomas and Dr. Baz Dreisinger.

Artboard 1

March 10-July 9, 2023

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Art Forum Gallery
Third Floor

The Writing on the Wall is a traveling exhibition of essays, poems, letters, stories, diagrams, and notes written by individuals from around the world experiencing incarceration. The installation is a collaboration between Hank Willis Thomas and Dr. Baz Dreisinger.

Emulating a prison cell, The Writing on the Wall at the MAH recreates these largely unseen spaces in a public sphere. The installation’s design references the palimpsest-like writing on the walls of prison cells and layers these onto opaque and transparent acrylic panels arranged in modules. The arrangement of the installation is based on measurements of cell blocks, providing a spatial context for visitors and immersing them in the words of the incarcerated. The writings were collected, with the authors’ permission, by Dr. Dreisinger during her years teaching in US and international prisons. As a presentation of the crisis of global criminal justice systems, these letters visually convey the narratives, thoughts, and emotions of the people behind bars.

In conjunction with The Writing on the Wall exhibition at the MAH, a version of the project can also be seen currently at the Davenport Jail, a decommissioned jailhouse and historic landmark built in 1914. Later this spring, the work will be presented guerilla-style as a series of pop-up, outdoor projections on local justice buildings, including the structure immediately next to the MAH in Abbott Square that served as the Santa Cruz County Jail and Courthouse from 1937 to 1986.

The Writing on the Wall is organized by Rachel Nelson and Gina Dent in partnership with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History as part of Visualizing Abolition, a public scholarship initiative at UC Santa Cruz designed to shift the social attachment to prisons through art and education. Funding for Visualizing Abolition is provided by the Mellon Foundation.

The project is an initiative of the Incarceration Nations Network and has previously been exhibited in Detroit, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, and New York City, including as part of the High Line Network Joint Art Initiative.

Header Image: Rendering of The Writing on the Wall, MASS Design Group.

Gallery

Photo by Chalom + Baylock Photography, courtesy MASS Design Group.

Photo by Chalom + Baylock Photography, courtesy MASS Design Group.

Photo by Liz Gorman.

Photo by Chalom + Baylock Photography, courtesy MASS Design Group.

Former Santa Cruz County Jail and Courthouse, courtesy the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History.

Photo by Chalom + Baylock Photography, courtesy MASS Design Group.

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