PHILADELPHIA – Leeway Foundation and Bread & Roses Community Fund present RELEASE, an exhibition and program series that explores the intersection of gender justice and mass incarceration. On view from February 26 to June 30, RELEASE provides shared spaces for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming survivors of the prison industrial complex, as well as 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. Mariame and Rachel follow the history of women who have been incarcerated as a result of self-defense, dating all the way back to a woman slave who killed her owner, up to the recent federal case surrounding Marissa Alexander. The original artwork by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, Cristy Road and Ariel Springfield are accompanied by ephemera and artifacts documenting the campaigns that demanded the freedom of some of these women.
The other half of the exhibit showcases paintings by Philadelphia artist and Leeway grantee Mary DeWitt. Mary DeWitt’s portraits narrate the stories of women serving life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania. Mary’s paintings are striking images of women who gaze directly at the viewer. She scrawls text from interviews directly onto the portraits and audio of the women’s voices complement each piece, offering deeper insight into their lives and the conditions they have faced. Mary believes these women 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.”
Co-curator Rachel Caidor and featured artist Mary DeWitt will be present on Thursday, February 26 from 5:30-8:00pm for a tour of the exhibit and opening reception at the Leeway Foundation (1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832, Philadelphia, PA 19107). Press are invited to join us for a special preview from 4:30-5:30pm before the public opening.
Mariame Kaba shared in a recent interview about the collection: “This project and this exhibition were working to illuminate the logics of incarceration and how they structure our lives in various ways. And we’re in a moment right now when there is a greater ability to reflect on these issues than there has been in the past. But in the rise in consciousness around mass incarceration, one of the things that’s been missing has been a conversation about gender, whether that means transfolks or LGB folks or women-identified folks. Many of the conversations have been dominated by talking about men of color because they have been caught up in the system in such high numbers. But wherever there is the possibility to deepen and complicate that story, people have been interested and wanting to engage with it. This project has been a part of that.”
Exhibit hours are by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 10:00am - 5:00pm. Visitors are asked to call 215.545.4078 to schedule a viewing. In addition, organizations are invited to reserve space at the Leeway Foundation to view the work in conjunction with related events and/or discussions.
Leeway Foundation and Bread & Roses Community Fund has partnered with Philadelphia organizations to host public programs that grapple with issues of gender justice and mass incarceration. Program details follow:
COMMUNITY TOWN HALL
Wednesday, March 25, 5:30-8:30pm
Friends Center - 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Local artists, community organizers, and activists will gather to discuss ideas and build a roadmap to ending mass incarceration and gender-based violence. Participants will make art, have access to resources and support, and collectively explore efforts towards a safer society where the lives of all people are valued and protected. Free and open to the public.
SPECIAL SCREENING OF OUT IN THE NIGHT AND FREE CECE
Tuesday, April 21, 5:00-8:00pm
The Philadelphia premieres of the feature-length film Out in the Night and the trailer of Free CeCe will be shown. These two documentaries offer firsthand accounts of how acts of self-defense against gender-based violence have impacted the lives of those involved. Filmmakers and subjects from both films, as well as members from Hearts on a Wire— a local organization of trans and gender variant people building a movement for racial and economic justice— will be present for a post Q&A with the audience.
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.
Mary began working in prisons almost immediately after she finished her graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania in 1988. She taught painting to men and women in the state correctional system, traveling throughout Pennsylvania. Believing that those serving life without parole were the most helpful and enthusiastic students, she continued to work with the same life-sentenced women over 25 years later. 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.
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.
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. For more information, visit www.breadrosesfund.org.
The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs, we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees, and events, visitwww.leeway.org.
Press inquiries should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos and images are available upon request.