Leeway Foundation and Bread & Roses Community Fund present RELEASE, an exhibition and program series that explores the intersection of gender justice and mass incarceration. RELEASE aims to provide shared spaces for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming survivors of the prison industrial complex, local artists, cultural producers, and activists to critically reflect and build power for change.
RELEASE includes a collection of portraits and narratives curated by Chicago-based activists Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor, and paintings by Mary DeWitt (LTA '10, ACG '09, WOO '03, '00). Co-curators Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor focus on women of color who have been incarcerated due to self-defense and the campaigns that demanded their freedom, while Mary DeWitt's paintings narrate the lives of women serving life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania. Together, they address the circumstances leading up to their convictions, expose the injustices that lay before and after their sentencing, and show how we can mobilize to resist the criminalization of marginalized communities.
The exhibit also includes original art by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, and Ariel Springfield. It also includes ephemera and artifacts from Mariame Kaba’s collection.
Join Rachel Caidor and Mary DeWitt for a tour and artist talk at the Opening Reception on Thursday, February 26 from 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Leeway Foundation (1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832).
Details about the program series will also be announced.
Mariame Kaba is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with the long-term goal of ending youth incarceration. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development. Kaba has a long history of educating and organizing against violence. She has co-founded several organizations including the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team, and the Chicago Freedom School. Kaba runs the blog Prison Culture where she writes about issues of juvenile justice, prisons, criminalization, and transformative justice.
Rachel Caidor has worked in Chicago rape crisis and domestic violence crisis centers since 1997. She has been active in Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and was a founding member of the radical feminist dance troupe, Pink Bloque. She currently works at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
While studying painting in the 1970s and 80s, Mary Dewitt had the opportunity to work with a great figurative painter, Jerome Witkin, at Syracuse University. He introduced Mary to the work of Käthe Kollwitz, Alice Neel, Egon Schiele and Lucien Freud — all figurative expressionists, several social activists, whose visions inspired her development.
In 1988, Mary began working in the prisons almost immediately after she finished her graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. She taught painting to men and women in the state correctional system, traveling throughout Pennsylvania. Those serving life without parole were the most helpful and enthusiastic students.
She continued to work with the same life-sentenced women over twenty-five years later. They are inaccessible to the public, yet their histories illuminate a crisis in our country that needs to be witnessed and rectified. They have so much to teach us about race, class, gender and the evolution of the prison industrial complex unique to the United States. They are articulate, eloquent and authentic; they have been unjustly incarcerated decades too long.
Mary’s hope is to communicate who these individuals are, on the Internet and by exhibition, using portraiture, video and the voices of the life-sentenced women. People outside of these institutions deserve to know what is really going on, the truth, so they can mobilize to change this tragic situation.
Bread & Roses Community Fund provides grants and technical assistance to support communities in the Philadelphia region that are taking collective action to bring about racial and economic justice. Since 1977, Bread & Roses has distributed over $10 million.
This exhibit is presented with the support of our community partners: 1Love Movement, Address This!, Art Sanctuary, Attic Youth Center, BlackStar Film Festival, Books Through Bars, City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program, Decarcerate PA, Feminist Public Works, GALAEI, Gender Reel, Girls Justice League, Hearts on A Wire, I'm Free, Institute for Community Justice, Juntos, Let's Get Free, Morris Home, National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, PA Innocence Project, People's Paper Co-op, PhillyCAM, Reconstruction Inc, Scribe Video Center, Sisters Returning Home, The Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, Trans Justice Funding Project, Trans Oral History Project, Trans Wellness Project, Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, Inc., Why Not Prosper?, William Way Community Center, and Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project.
Exhibit Hours: By appointment only. Monday – Friday, 10:00am – 5:00pm. Please call 215.545.4078 to schedule a viewing.
Image Credit: Marie Scott, 1996 by Mary Dewitt; Inez Garcia, 2014 by Biana Diaz.