Ron Bechet, Keith Calhoun, Dolfinette Martin, Chandra McCormick, Rontherin Ratliff, and Syrita Steib will discuss two exhibitions on the history of incarceration in Louisiana with Andrea Andersson and Mónica Ramírez-Montagut. We will conclude with a poetry reading.
In this talk
Chandra McCormick & Keith Calhoun: Slavery-The Prison Industrial Complex is an ongoing series of photographs of African-American life within the Louisiana prison system that reached global audiences with Prospect.3 New Orleans and the 56th Venice Biennale. Their investigation, which began in the 1980s, probes the hidden realities of the state prison system and depicts scenes of forced labor, art fairs, rodeo pageantry, and familial visits all set within prison walls.
Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana, the current Ford Foundation exhibition, explores one of the most critical issues of inequality and injustice facing our nation today through the lens of a population too often overlooked. With an alarming rise in rates of female incarceration, this exhibition seeks to build awareness of the crucial issues that impact women before, during, and after incarceration. The exhibition presents works from more than 30 artists who created new pieces based on the personal stories of 30 formerly and currently incarcerated women: persisters. Stories of loss, hope, despair, survival, triumph, and persistence are shared in a variety of forms, demonstrating simultaneously the universal struggles faced by communities impacted by incarceration and the personal resilience of each woman featured.
This conversation crosses time and exhibitions to foreground a culture of incarceration, those whom it impacts most intimately, and the artists who tell their stories.
Rontherin Ratliff is a mixed media sculptor whose work focuses on ideas of balance and the human condition. He blends functionality, aesthetic, context, and associations to address subjects of loneliness, loss, homesickness, memory, and the burdens we carry. Ratliff examines the metaphor of the body as a house where the mind dwells. Feeling at home or in harmony within including home as one’s origin or domestic place. The work questions the sociocultural constructed concepts of self. With it, he contemplates reservations regarding home as a safe-haven where one experiences positive qualities such as security and comfort. Using architectural materials and domestic objects, his work explores the notion of internal versus external balance.
Syrita Steib is the Founder and Executive Director of Operation Restoration (OR), an organization that specializes in creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated women through college courses, case management services, advocacy programs and more. Syrita is also a policy consultant for Cut50’s Dignity for Incarcerated Women campaign and worked tirelessly on the passage of the First Step Act. Syrita was appointed by the Governor to the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment oversight council and is the Vice-chair for the Louisiana Task Force on Women’s Incarceration. She also helped create and was featured in the Newcomb Art Museum’s Per(Sister) exhibit which shared the stories of currently and formerly incarcerated women.
Artist Ron Bechet is a native of New Orleans. He studied art at the University of New Orleans where he earned a BA degree and went on to earn an MFA degree from Yale University. Since then he has exhibited his work nationally and internationally. He is known for intimate drawings and paintings inspired by the land and circumstances of Southern Louisiana, knotted and matted and within the African Diaspora tradition of trees connecting earth and sky, the realms of the ancestors and the living. They tell a personal and communal metaphoric story of cultural hybridity. He is currently the Victor H. Labat Professor of Art at Xavier University of Louisiana and has been teaching for over twenty years.
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick
Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick were born and raised in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans, Louisiana. As a husband and wife team, they have been documenting Louisiana and its people for more than 25 years. In New Orleans, they have documented the music culture, which consists of Brass Bands, Jazz Funerals, Social and Pleasure Clubs, Benevolent Societies, and the Black Mardi Gras Indians. In addition to documenting New Orleans’ social and cultural history, Calhoun and McCormick have also covered religious and spiritual ceremonies throughout their community, as well as river baptisms in rural Louisiana. They have created several photographic series, including Louisiana Laborers; The Dock Worker, Longshoreman, and Freight Handlers on the docks of New Orleans; Sugar Cane Field Scrappers in the river parishes along the Mississippi river; Cotton Gins, and Sweet Potato Workers in East Carrol parish of Lake Providence Louisiana. Calhoun and McCormick have documented the soul of New Orleans and a vanishing Louisiana: the last of the sugar cane workers, the dockworkers, the sweet potato harvesters, and the displacement of African Americans after Katrina. They photograph the traditions of black church services and religious rituals; community rites and celebrations, such as parades, and jazz funerals; and the cruel conditions of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a former slave-breeding plantation named for the African nation from which “the most profitable” slaves, according to slave owners, were kidnapped.
Dolfinette Martin is the Housing Director at Operation Restoration. She serves on the Formerly Incarcerated Transitional Clinic Advisory Board, a clinic created for formerly incarcerated people, and she is a panelist on the Criminal Background Check Review Panel for the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO). Dolfinette was appointed to New Orleans first female transition team of New Orleans’ Mayor Latoya Cantrell. In 2018 she was appointed to Essence Festival’s first ever all-female criminal justice reform panel. She was a founding member and former president of the New Orleans chapter of National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Andrea Andersson is the founding director & chief curator of Rivers Institute for Contemporary Art & Thought. She is the co-curator of the forthcoming exhibition Sanford Biggers: Codeswitch (opening in September at the Bronx Museum) and co-editor of the eponymous publication (Yale University Press). Her recent exhibitions and publications have included Zarouhie Abdalian: Production, Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick: Labor Studies, Hinge Pictures: Eight Women Artists Occupy the Third Dimension, Sarah Morris: Sawdust & Tinsel, Jockum Nordström: Why is Everthing A Rag, Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible, Meg Turner: Here and Now, and Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen, among others.
Mónica Ramírez-Montagut serves as the director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. She previously served as the director of the Newcomb Art Museum. Prior to that, Ramírez-Montagut served as senior curator at the San Jose Museum of Art. Through her curatorial career, Ramírez- Montagut has worked with artists such as KAWS, Alejandro Diaz, Hope Gangloff, Andrea Dezsö, Kate Clark, Regina Silveira, Chelpa Ferro, and Erik Parker. Tapping into her experience as an architect, Ramírez-Montagut also curated exhibitions such as Restoring a Masterpiece: Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Guggenheim Museum and Zaha Hadid, a 30-year retrospective of the acclaimed architect who designed the MSU Broad.
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