What does it mean to be able to give those who cannot speak a voice through art? Windows on Death Row provides insight into the lives of often forgotten death row inmates all around the country. The art exhibit had its debut at USC in the old Annenberg building where it was originally intended to remain from October 22 through December 18 of this year before it began its cross-country tour. Due to its extreme popularity, the exhibition has been extended until January 4, 2016.
CLICK on the painting below titled “Texas Death Machine” for a small excerpt from the artist’s journal:
“As I now sit on Death Watch, in this cold cell penning this entry, I cannot help but think of the opening of an Iron Maiden song called: ‘Hallow Be Thy Name.’ It opens like this:
Unfortunately, the song is about a condemned man sentenced to the Gallow’s Pole.”
This project proves to be a strong point of passion for the two Swiss curators, cartoonist Patrick Chappatte and journalist Anne-Frédérique Widmann who began working together to spread awareness regarding death row after hearing about many of the botched executions that took place in 2014.
Pencils, oil, acrylic; paper, canvas; color, black-and-white—all styles and designs have been used to create the moving displays. Some of the inmates had chosen humoristic cartoon-style sketches to protest the death sentence, others painted images of frustration with figures crying, yelling in anguish, and praying for solutions to their misery. Religion is a major theme in many of these paintings. Many canvases are covered in angels and rosary beads, usually in shades of dark red, gray and black. Windows and doors are a frequent feature as well. The windows are drawn high and the doors are barred. A few pieces show signs of spiritual redemption and freedom post-death. Included on the bottom of every piece is a barcode, which can be scanned for further information about the individual artist.
CLICK on the painting below titled “Fish Market” for a small excerpt about the artist:
“But once I had the chance to meet his daughter, I was able to have this visual — that this is what 17 years actually looks like. That’s a lifetime. It was a moment of real reflection for me, standing there while all this was going on, seeing how much time he had given from his life to my life, to actually save my life.”
The collected work not only serves as the legacy of the death row inmates but also a reminder of the grave consequences that can result from the great possibility of error as we send the wrongfully accused to their deaths. Sister Helen Prejean, one of the biggest advocates against the death sentence has repeatedly stated: “The system is broken.” A recent incident of a life-altering “mistake” involves Ndume Olatushani who spent nearly thirty years on Tennessee’s death row for a crime he did not commit. One of the few cases considered to have a happy ending, reporter Rasha Ali captures his story of false accusation and hope for salvation during her interview with the former inmate.
Both heartbreaking and devastating, the paintings and drawings of the prisoners speak great volumes for its creators who want the world to know about their experiences within the penitentiaries that prefer to keep them silent. Make sure to check out the exhibit at USC before it is moved to a new destination.
Sound and audio editing by Lara Altunian and Rasha Ali.
Photography, text and interactive designs by Lara Altunian.