Crafting for a Cause: Art in Incarceration

Wednesday night at the Hive looked something like arts and crafts hour. The modern white tables were hidden beneath a brightly colored assortment of supplies, from cardboard scraps and paper straws to pipe cleaners and feathers. As students cut and glued, the space was reminiscent of preschool at first glance. The matter at hand, however, was decidedly less elementary. In place of flowers and stick figure families, the artwork included black feathers alongside metal bars and an American flag constructed in the shape of chain links.

This event was the first of a two-part art series on immigration and incarceration. At Wednesday night’s gathering, students created their own works of art after a brief introductory presentation about the intersection of art, immigration and incarceration. The follow-up art walk and discussion took place on Thursday, Apr. 14.

The event was organized by four Pomona College students for their gender and women's studies class Feminisms and Community. The class, which focuses on the intersections between the prison industrial complex, community organizing, and feminism, has a component in which students are required to create a popular education campaign on campus. 

In their project design, the coordinators went beyond the requisite educational component to include a therapeutic element.

“This topic is something that affects students on campus, but at the same time there are students that know nothing about it,” said coordinator Jon Contreras PO ’18. “We’re hoping it’ll be both a space for healing for the students that have been affected by it and also a space for conversation and consciousness-raising. It’s something that we all need to be involved with.”

The organizers intended to first and foremost raise consciousness and create discussion about the ways in which the prison-industrial complex is militarized in order to regulate and surveil individuals that are 'allowed or 'not allowed' to be in this country. However, aside from the introduction, the programming was very open-ended.

“We want to give space and room for people to have discussions and express themselves through the art that they create in whatever way they want to,” said Chelsea Clark Edmiston PO ‘19, one of event’s co-coordinators.

The subject of immigration and incarceration was chosen for its immediate relevance to the country’s political climate, the Feminisms and Community class, and even to the Claremont community. As coordinator Sagarika Gami PO ’18 explained, “I know that before this class, the prison-industrial complex wasn’t something that I thought much about, which is now in retrospect unthinkable because it’s literally everywhere. I’m hoping we can start conversations on campus that will continue after this event.”

For Clark Edmiston, planning the event was a learning experience about her own power to spark campus conversation.

“I think this is a doable thing and I think more conversation needs to be had,” she said.

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