Gallery view of the final project installation.

What Cannot Be Taken Away (2010)

A dialogic, arts-based research project about experiences with incarceration. Over six months, I met separately with incarcerated fathers and young people who have incarcerated parents. I carried written, audio and visual materials back and forth between the two groups in a weekly multimodal conversation. Not related and never coming into contact with each other, the two groups would work on the same exercises and prompts each week and direct the content of the conversations. I added exercises in painting, drawing, writing, meditation and the history of the prison industrial complex as additional mediums for sharing and developing ideas.  The dialogue supported the articulation of what Donna Haraway refers to as situated knowledges, building a nuanced description of incarceration’s impacts through the contestation, sharing and connections made between the subjective experiences of the group members. Throughout this phase, we shared sketchbooks that were filled with text, drawings, symbols, metaphors and photos. The sketchbooks became archives that informed the next phase of the project in the form of portraits.

Antonio Gramsci wrote that critical elaboration of consciousness is a process of compiling an inventory of the “infinity of traces” that result from historical processes. After each person analyzed their archives and developed draft inventories in the form of portraits, I painted the final works, which are each 8' x 5', acrylic and oil pastel on non woven media. The project has been exhibited in galleries, colleges, jail, and Alcatraz Island and always includes multiple portraits, workshops or talks, project archives and extensive historical context.

The timeline created during this project as a workshop tool, and expanded with the help of Tanya Orellana, later became The Knotted Line.

This project is possible through a collaboration between multiple programs of Community Works (Project WHAT! and RSVP) and with funding from LEF, the Puffin Foundation, the support of Savory Thymes and Panta Rhea foundation, and many individual donors. Special thanks to Dee Morizano Meyers who helped create the labyrinth and co-facilitated workshops at San Bruno Jail. 

 Gallery view of the final project installation.

Gallery view of the final project installation.

 An early workshop tool, which charted the recent growth of incarceration in the United States (below the line) and project members' experience with incarceration (above the line). This timeline would later be expanded for public installation of the project and formed the conceptual seed for The Knotted Line.  

An early workshop tool, which charted the recent growth of incarceration in the United States (below the line) and project members' experience with incarceration (above the line). This timeline would later be expanded for public installation of the project and formed the conceptual seed for The Knotted Line.  

 Each week the two groups wrote letters, shared audio and visuals in an evolving conversation.

Each week the two groups wrote letters, shared audio and visuals in an evolving conversation.

 A workshop tool focused on stressors that come as a result of being incarcerated or having a family member incarcerated.

A workshop tool focused on stressors that come as a result of being incarcerated or having a family member incarcerated.

 Sadie works on sketches for her final portrait. 

Sadie works on sketches for her final portrait. 

IMG_0460.jpg
 Sadie sharing her final portrait and eyes painting with her family.

Sadie sharing her final portrait and eyes painting with her family.

 Sadie  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Sadie

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Draft sketch created by Ben for his portrait. The silhouette in the middle is based on a staged photograph that we created.

Draft sketch created by Ben for his portrait. The silhouette in the middle is based on a staged photograph that we created.

 Ben  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Ben

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Chey working on her final sketch, depicting a prison visiting room.

Chey working on her final sketch, depicting a prison visiting room.

 Chey  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Chey

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Vonteak  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Vonteak

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Liz  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Liz

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Melvin  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Melvin

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Darren  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Darren

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Joe  Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

Joe

Acrylic and oil pastel on non-woven media, 8'x5'

 When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

When exhibited, the portraits are accompanied by "legends" that describe the symbols and narrative.

 Installation view, including the meditation labyrinth, the eyes paintings by project members and the portraits.

Installation view, including the meditation labyrinth, the eyes paintings by project members and the portraits.

 Installation view of audio installation.

Installation view of audio installation.

 The labyrinth in use during a workshop.

The labyrinth in use during a workshop.