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Making Art When 'Lockdown' Means Prison

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Gilberto Rivera’s “An Institutional Nightmare” (2012), made from a federal prison uniform, commissary papers, floor wax, newspaper and acrylic paint.

 

We’re living in a post-fact time, but that doesn’t mean there are no facts. Here are some. The United States has the largest population of captive human beings on earth, around 2.4 million, and an outsized percentage of them are Black. Since the 1980s, prison life sentences have quadrupled; the minimum age for imprisonment has dropped; the use of solitary confinement, sometimes referred to as “no-touch torture,” has grown.

The result is the prison-industrial complex we know, a punitive universe walled off from the larger world. What takes place behind those walls? Deprivation and cruelty, but also the production of art, as we learn from “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a stirring 44-artist show at the reopened MoMA PS1.

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