‘Geographies of Detention’ Exhibition Opens June 1

The contemporary art and public history exhibition at UCR/CMP examines links between California’s prisons and Guantánamo

San_Quentin painting

“San Quentin State Prison (SQ) – San Quentin, CA, 2000,” by Sandow Birk. From the San Jose Museum of Art collection. Image courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Artists, activists and filmmakers examine a U.S. incarceration system stretching from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to California in “Geographies of Detention: From Guantánamo to the Golden Gulag,” an exhibition that opens Saturday, June 1, at the UC Riverside/California Museum of Photography. The exhibition continues through Sept. 7.

Guest co-curators Catherine Gudis and Molly McGarry, both associate professors of history at UCR, will introduce the exhibition in a panel discussion at 6 p.m. June 1 in the adjoining Culver Center. Panelists will include painter Sandow Birk, photographer Alyse Emdur, Kevin Michael Key of the Los Angeles Poverty Department theater company, and filmmaker Setsu Shigematsu, an assistant professor of media and cultural studies at UCR. The panel will be moderated by Tiffany López, UCR professor of theate0 and, the Tomás Rivera Chair in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.  The discussion will be followed by a special viewing of the exhibition in the galleries.

Through Aug. 10, “Geographies of Detention” also includes a traveling exhibit of the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, an examination of the more than 100-year history of the U.S. naval station at Guantánamo Bay. The UCR Public History program contributed to this student-curated exhibit that opened in New York in December 2012 and will travel to universities around the country.

Paining of prison in Imperial County

“California State Prison (CEN) — Imperial, CA, 2001,” by Sandow Birk. From the collection of Stephanie and Samuel F. Parker. Image courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco

The main gallery of the museum is devoted largely to the contemporary context and landscape of California’s “golden gulag.” One portion of the exhibition highlights work by artists Birk, Emdur and Richard Ross, each of whom explores different aspects of imprisonment. Films by Shigematsu, Ashley Hunt and the Los Angeles Poverty Department are presented throughout the building.

Prison populations in California have grown 500 percent in the last three decades even as crime rates subside, and prison spending continues to increase while state funding for higher education declines, co-curators Gudis and McGarry said. Many artists have begun to address social justice issues raised by the incarceration of so many individuals, and some are making connections between the architectural landscape of Guantánamo and California prisons, they added.

“Guantánamo is often discussed as a place of exception outside the U.S. mainland, a ‘legal black hole,’” McGarry said. “In California, prisons are not the exception, they’re the rule. They line the landscape of the state.”

The exhibition contains both artwork and documentary images that “speak to pressing issues that need our attention,” Gudis said. “These images compel our attention and have the capacity to move people.”

A selection of paintings by Sandow Birk from his series “Prisonation” (2001) reflects on the growth of California’s prison industrial complex. Taking inspiration from pictorial genres of 19th century landscapes, each of Birk’s paintings depicts one of California’s state prisons, from Pelican Bay in Northern California to Centinela State Prison at the U.S.–Mexico border.

Richard Ross and Alyse Emdur take the viewer inside these structures. In his series of photographs “Architecture of Authority” (2007), Ross explores the built environment of prisons, revealing the spatial logic used to exert power over the bodies incarcerated within. Emdur’s large-scale photographs of prison visiting rooms and collected letters and snapshots (some of which appear in her 2013 book, “Prison Landscapes”) offer a more intimate vision of inmates posing with their visitors against murals in fantasy landscapes of freedom.

Exhibition films

The theater company Los Angeles Poverty Department presents a portion of its “History of Incarceration” performance and media installation with a 210-minute looped film. The film features 184 Californians reading the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on overcrowding in state prisons in which the court declared that current conditions amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.” The film will be played continuously on the Jumbotron screens on the façade of the Culver Center.

“Visions of Abolition: From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life,” directed by Setsu Shigematsu, UCR assistant professor of media and cultural studies, will be screened in the gallery. This 90-minute documentary about the prison industrial complex weaves together voices of women caught in the criminal justice system with leading scholars and activists in the prison abolition movement.

Painting of Pelican Bay prison

“Pelican Bay State Prison, (PBSP) — Crescent City, CA, 2001,” by Sandow Birk. From the collection of Bill Nichols. Image courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco

“A Prison in the Field” by multimedia artist Ashley Hunt is part of his ongoing “Corrections Documentary Project.” Considering why, where, and how prisons get built in remote rural communities, the 20-minute film follows grassroots activists who are fighting against the construction of a second prison in Delano, Calif., on the grounds that prisons are a form of environmental and economic injustice.

Screening at the Culver Center are: “The Road to Guantánamo,” which uses interviews, news footage and reenactments to tell the story of three British Muslims who were held at Guantánamo for three years, June 7 and 8; and “Zero Dark Thirty,” the unconventional war movie by Academy Award-nominee Kathryn Bigelow, June 14 and 15. Screening time is 7 p.m. Admission is $5 for students, $9.99 general.

Peter Jan Honigsberg, professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and founder of The Witness to Guantánamo project will speak at the Culver Center on July 11 at 7 p.m. Honigsberg is conducting in-depth, filmed interviews with former detainees and other witnesses, such as prison guards, chaplains, medical personnel, prosecutors, attorneys, high-level government and military officials, FBI agents, interrogators, interpreters and family members of detainees. Witness to Guantanamo is the only project that is systematically filming and preserving these narratives in order to document the human rights abuses and rule of law violations that took place at Guantánamo Bay, Gudis and McGarry said.

Guantánamo Public Memory Project

The Guantánamo Public Memory Project combines historical and contemporary photography, film, and first-person audio interviews to examine how the naval base has been closed and reopened for more than a century before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. These new perspectives on Guantánamo’s history provoke discussions about the limits of democracy and the meaning of mass incarceration in a global present and future.

Collaboratively curated by 11 universities — including UCR — the project is comprised of a deeply researched traveling exhibit, as well as a website (www.gitmomemory.org), blog, and ongoing public conversation. The exhibition panel produced by graduate students in UCR’s Public History Program examines Guantánamo as an international symbol of America’s War on Terror and a lightning rod for debates about torture, detention, national security, and human rights.

“Geographies of Detention” was made possible in part by the generous support of Stephen Cullenberg, dean of the UCR College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and the UCR History Department’s Friends of Public History.

Concurrent exhibitions in CMP are:

  • “Monuments of Void: Wolf von dem Bussche’s Photographs of the Twin Towers,” which continues through July 6 in the Lower Level Gallery. The exhibition examines the re-contextualization of the World Trade Center towers since the attacks of September 11. “Monuments of Void” is curated by UCR student Pejman Shojaei , who will graduate this year with degrees in history and art history.
  • “Around the World in Forty Pictures,” which continues through July 27.  Celebrating the CMP’s 40th anniversary, the exhibition is inspired by the classic novel “Around the World in 80 Days” by Jules Verne, first published in 1873. The exhibition culls 40 pictures from the Keystone-Mast Collection (part of the CMP permanent collection) to retrace the steps of Verne’s colorful characters as they circumnavigate the globe. “Around the World in Forty Pictures” is curated by Joanna Szupinska-Myers, CMP curator of exhibitions.

UCR ARTSblock is located at 3824 and 3834 Main St., Riverside, and includes three venues: California Museum of Photography, Culver Center of the Arts, and Sweeney Art Gallery. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 pm, plus 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for First Thursday ArtWalks, which take place on the first Thursday of every month. Admission is $3, which includes entry to all three venues, and is free during First Thursday ArtWalks. The Culver Center opens 30 minutes prior to film screenings.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Joanna Szupinska-Myers
Tel: (951) 827-4788
E-mail: joanna.szupinska@ucr.edu

Related Links

Archived under: Arts/Culture, , , , , , ,

Top of Page