Opening Reception for “Seeking Asylum Resisting Detention, NJ: States of Incarceration Newark”

Image: c/o Humanities Action Lab

Humanities Action Lab

Project for Empty Space in collaboration with the Humanities Action Lab, Newest Americans, Rutgers University-Newark’s Graduate Program in Americans Studies, and First Friends of NJ and NY presents States of Incarceration: Seeking Asylum, Resisting Detention. This event includes the Newark premiere of the States of Incarceration exhibit in addition to three other components that examine the impact of immigrant detention in the Newark region.

Dr. Mary Rizzo and graduate student Dahlia Azran, working with First Friends, curated a collection of art created by detainees while in detention in North Jersey. Many of these pieces are composed of non-traditional materials such as candy wrappers, toilet paper, food-based ink, and other scraps of utilitarian objects. In many cases, discarded paraphernalia were some of the only materials available to detainees to use in creative endeavors. This portion of the exhibition demonstrates how detainees use art to resist the dehumanization of imprisonment, seek refuge and find solace, and express gratitude to the listeners who hear their stories.

Newest Americans produced eight photographic portraits by founding partner Ed Kashi of people who were detained between 1996 and the present, and conducted interviews with the subjects about their experience in detention and their lives since they were released. Kashi’s life-size portraits feature former detainees who firmly stand their ground even while their physical settings seem to be receding them, as though they are there and not there, at home and adrift, uncertain of their place in America. These portraits are accompanied by recorded accounts from the detainees, who phone visitors back when texted via cellphone.

Finally, another collection of artwork, curated by Project for Empty Space’s Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Pauline Jampol, is comprised of pieces by four artists: Lizania Cruz, Samer Fouad, Jon Gomez, and Ann J. Lewis (GILF). Each artists links the precariousness of people with an undocumented status in the United States to the larger threat of the carceral state.