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Artists explore incarceration, re-entry in moving exhibit at Cal State LA

June 27, 2018
A professor speaks to incarcerated students.

Artists explore incarceration, re-entry in moving exhibit at Cal State LA

June 27, 2018
A professor speaks to incarcerated students.

A stunning exhibit featuring photography, art and storytelling by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals is on display at the Cal State LA Fine Arts Gallery during the month of June.

Nearly 1,300 people have explored the exhibit, “(RE)think (RE)enter (RE)store,” since it opened June 1. It is a collaboration with WordsUncaged, Unlock Tomorrow and Cal State LA.

“We don’t get to hear their voices often or see who they are as human beings,” Cal State LA professor and WordsUncaged founder Bidhan Chandra Roy said. “The whole point of this project is to amplify these voices.”

The month-long exhibit featured opening and closing receptions and other events including an afternoon of healing circles on June 22. In these groups, invited guests heard from formerly incarcerated individuals, survivors whose loved ones were lost to violence and youth growing up in communities affected by the criminal justice system.

“I hope that we walk away from here with a sense of responsibility that we’ve heard the two extremes of violence that are all too common in our communities and [ask ourselves] what responsibility do we have to change these communities to make sure the youth don’t head down either one of these paths,” said Javier Stauring, executive director for Healing Dialogue and Action, a group that helped organize the healing circles.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell (center) talks to two people

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, who has championed many bills on criminal justice reform, addressed the guests gathered at the Cal State LA Fine Arts Gallery for the June 22 event.

“You sharing your stories, you partnering with one another, you partnering with your elected officials is very important because we still have people who don’t understand and who are working to maintain the status quo every day,” said Mitchell, whose 30th District includes Culver City, Ladera Heights, Westmont and the Crenshaw, Downtown and Florence neighborhoods of Los Angeles. “We know that justice and equity and what’s right is on our side. Know that we are going to continue to fight.”

The daytime event and evening closing reception on June 22 coincided with the highly anticipated release of the second edition of the WordsUncaged book series, Words Uncaged: DisConnected/ReConnected, by Brick of Gold Publishing Company.

WordsUncaged provides a platform for incarcerated individuals in California prisons to dialogue and critically engage with the world beyond the prison walls.

“If you believe in rehabilitation, then that means you believe in a second chance,” said Travielle Pope, a WordsUncaged project participant who spoke during the exhibit’s opening reception. “…I’m quite sure that everybody in this room is not the same person they were [20 years ago].”

Other events related to the exhibit included a Tech for Good Hackathon, which was held on June 16 at the Cal State LA Fine Arts Gallery. Hosted by Headspace, a digital service company, and Unlock Tomorrow, the event brought together students, community members, formerly incarcerated individuals, entrepreneurs and engineers for a design and rapid prototyping session.

Participants explored ways to better facilitate the re-entry of formerly incarcerated individuals with the goal of reducing recidivism.

The work of artists such as Estevan Oriol, MEAR ONE, Spanto, Valerie J. Bower, F. Scott Schafer and Danny Dwyer is featured in the exhibit, along with an installation by Chris Branscombe and Kenneth Webb, both of whom are incarcerated in state prison.

Contributing artists include inmates from California State Prison in Lancaster, youth from Orange County Juvenile Hall and artists associated with the organizations Born X Raised and Sister Inmate. Mika Cho, director for the Cal State LA Fine Arts Gallery, and Valerie J. Bower curated the exhibit.

Two guests look at artwork on the walls

Photos: Above, Cal State LA professor and WordsUncaged founder Bidhan Chandra Roy addresses guests at the closing reception of the exhibit. Middle, State Sen. Holly Mitchell engages with guests who participated in the healing circles. Bottom, Two guests study artwork that is part of the exhibit in the Fine Arts Gallery. (Credit: Anibal Ortiz/Cal State LA)