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Art exhibit explores incarceration

Light turquoise walls covered with portraits and poetry transformed the Seton Art Gallery into a room designed to evoke the atmosphere of a jail cell.

“Whereabouts Unknown,” created by artist Felandus Thames ART ’10, is the gallery’s second exhibition on race and social justice in America. It focuses on high incarceration rates among American Black men using art made from everyday materials such as jars, hair berets and photographs. The exhibit will host its opening reception Thursday from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. After its opening, “Whereabouts Unknown” will be on display every day until March 1. Thames said he wants to create questions and conversations through his art and hopes that people will bring their own narratives to the exhibit.

“We are at a point in our nation where we are facing the fact that one in three Black men go to jail in their lifetime,” Seton Gallery Director Laura Marsh ART ’09 said. “As we look at our nation starting with slavery, moving into civil rights and now police brutality, we are asking how we can promote dialogues that bring people of different races and different social and economic backgrounds together.”

According to a 2003 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, one in three Black males in America are expected to go to prison during their lifetime, while one in 17 white males are expected to be incarcerated.

Marsh has been planning the exhibit with Thames over the past year. One wall of the exhibit is covered with small shelves holding jars that contain photos of anonymous Black men of various ages. The photos are dipped in hair relaxer, a product that straightens hair. The chemicals from the relaxer will eventually cause the images to fade away, Marsh said. She added that she views the relaxer as symbolic of the way a prisoner’s former life and relationships start to fade while they are incarcerated.

“The memory of this person will slowly start to wither away, your vivid memories fade,” Marsh said. “The details of [the prisoners’] lives become abstract to them, their former lives dissolved.” (READ MORE)

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