Rafael Francisco Salas publishes review about ground-breaking exhibit in Milwaukee

An article by Rafael Francisco Salas, professor of art and chair of the Department of Art and Art History, was published Jan. 31 by Urban Milwaukee magazine.

“Powerful Art By Prison Inmates” is about the ground-breaking exhibit “Art Against the Odds,” on view through March 11 at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. The exhibit is the first museum-scaled exhibition of artwork created by currently or formerly incarcerated people in Wisconsin.

“The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. Currently, there are 2.3 million individuals in the nation’s criminal justice system. This fact hovers over a remarkable project that has unfolded into an expansive declaration of visibility, of resilience and of healing,” Salas writes.

The exhibition includes the artwork of 65 artists and hundreds of objects, including handwritten letters by inmates. “The exhibition takes care to offer viewers context around the artworks and also carves out spaces that relate to the prison experience itself,” he says.

The show was developed “as a testimonial to lives lived out of the public eye, to give a voice and a humanity to people deemed unworthy of this. … Innovation in the midst of a lack of space, a lack of materials and a lack of privacy are also a hallmark of the artworks in this exhibition.”

He concludes: “This type of poetic reflection, the memory and imagination of more beautiful places, and intricate descriptions of pain and longing, coalesce in this exhibition to offer a deep insight into the experiences of the incarcerated population in our country. However, these works do not deny that pain has been inflicted by crime, and the exhibition honors the victims and survivors. But as with all people, the artists in this exhibition are far more than simply the crimes they are defined by. Their art has created a healing and a redemptive voice that has risen far beyond the physical walls of their prison.”

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