February 2 – March 10, 2017
Closing Reception on Friday, March 10, 5-7pm with a speaking program featuring Shawn Hesse (emersion DESIGN, Boston) on the role architects play in upholding human rights through their design work and C. Morgan Grefe (Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Society) on the stories that prison museums tell about incarceration and race.
Shawn Hesse leads the Boston office of emersion DESIGN. He is a member of the board of directors for Architects/Designers/Plannersfor Social Responsibility, a national group that works to end the design of solitary confinement and spaces for execution. He has taught courses and guest lectured on the topic of social justice and the built environment at Harvard, Northeastern, Brown, and the Boston Architectural College. C. Morgan Grefe is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. She holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown; her recent publications include “‘Jews, Turks, and Infidels:’ How Rhode Island’s Lively Experiment Helped Chart the American Way” and “Sourcing a Rhode Island Legend: The Story of Kady Brownell.”
Solitary Confinement is a multi-media exhibition that examines the widespread use of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. Curated by three students at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage – Matthew Branch, Thaddeus Gibson and Cherise Morris – working with Marisa Angell Brown, the Center’s Assistant Director of Programs, the exhibit focuses on the experience of what Departments of Correction often refer to euphemistically as “segregation,” the disciplinary practice of isolating prisoners in solitary cells for 22-24 hours a day for periods ranging from a few days up to entire decades. The Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 of the 1.6 million incarcerated Americans were held in solitary confinement in 2014.
The three-gallery exhibition begins with a Virtual Reality experience of solitary confinement produced by The Guardian newspaper. Google cardboard VR viewers and headsets are available for use by the public with instructions on how to download 6x9 from the iTunes store. The curators chose to open the exhibition with this experience to pull people out of their quotidian mindset so that they are better able to absorb the information and the experiences that are shared in the next two galleries.
The second gallery, titled Solitary Confinement: Inhumanity in Rhode Island, includes a full-scale mock-up of a 6’ 9’ solitary confinement cell lent by Black and Pink, a national organization that works to support LGBQT prisoners, as well as audio and written testimony of solitary “survivors” in Rhode Island and information about RI State Representative Aaron Regunberg’s current campaign to limit the use of solitary in the state.
The final gallery, Sentenced: Architecture and Human Rights, includes nearly forty drawings of solitary confinement cells made by prisoners in the San Francisco area that were first exhibited at the University of California Berkeley in 2014. The collection, lent by Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility -- a national organization that is pushing the American Institute of Architects to adopt language in their Code of Ethics barring architects from designing spaces of torture and execution – includes haunting visual and poetic testimony about the state of mind in solitary. All of them are profoundly affecting, expressing hopelessness, anger, and despair. One wall includes architectural plans for an execution chamber at Ely State Prison in Nevada with “before” and “after” photographs of the project during and after construction. Chilling.
On the way out, exhibit attendees can read and respond to letters written by prisoners in the Rhode Island state prisons who were in solitary when the letters were written. The curators also offer information on how Rhode Island residents can contact their State Senators, State Representatives and the Governor’s office to make their opposition to the use of solitary confinement heard.
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