Women?s art from inside: Changing perceptions, challenging violence

The Northern California chapter of CCWP (NCCWP) joined with the Humboldt Branch of Women?s International League for Peace and Freedom to cosponsor an exhibit of artwork by incarcerated women during October, 2005 at the Redwood Peace and Justice Center in Arcata, California. The Joan Patchen Fund provided funding for the exhibit.
The October 14th opening reception was part of a community-wide event called Arts Arcata. Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, this issue was highlighted through the art of women prisoners, including beautiful pieces by Linda Lee Smith, Donna Shaner, Theda Rice, Dolores Macias, Sheri L. Kelly and Demittri Bishop. They committed all money made from the sale of their art to go to support the work of Free Battered Women. Theda Rice sent a note that said, ?Thank you so much for the opportunity to do our drawings.? Donna Shaner also sent a poem entitled ?Alone.? The art display also included the essay from Our Voices Within ?How Living in Prison is Like Living with Your Batterer? by Brenda Clubine.
Works by activist, poet, artist, and political prisoner Marilyn Buck, including her Jericho ?98 sculpture, were displayed in the exhibit. Marilyn, in her 20th year of incarceration at the federal prison in Dublin, CA, sent a statement that said in part:
?In the world of hostages, imagination only escapes the shackles of women as victims. Creativity, when it surges forth, is life for any of us, but particularly for prisoners whose sorrows and losses in the midst of cruelty threaten to drown us. Creativity is desire, the spirit of life in this deadening, dystopic world designed to kill desire and spirit.
“Each act of art is an act of affirmation, of resistance, conscious or not. My own art grows out of the conscious and irrepressible necessity to live and to speak against the injustices of war, imperialism and white supremacy.
“Women must be the conscience of liberation, justice and humanity.?
The show had a powerful impact on the many people who saw it and left messages in the guest book. Here are some of the comments:
?Beautiful and haunting? These images trigger very strong emotions when I look at them? It?s difficult to look at them for very long, they make me feel sad and angry,? and finally, ?Thank you for sharing all your powerful and passionate pieces of art. Your story and struggle are not unheard or forgotten.?
Karen from NCCWP, one of the exhibit organizers, wrote that this work deepened her commitment to freeing all women prisoners and ending the cycle of violence.