The Newcomb Art Gallery currently has an amazing exhibit on incarcerated women in Louisiana. From 2005-2018, Louisiana held the highest incarceration rates nation-wide, and the incarcerated female population is growing at a rapid pace. The majority of the women in Louisiana are incarcerated for lower- level crimes, but the most gut wrenching fact is about 80% of these women are mothers. This is a huge cultural issue not only affecting the lives of these women, but their children as well.
This exhibit shares the individual stories of these women through captivating paintings, photography, and sculptures. It also challenges misconceptions and assumptions about these women by creating a common ground of empathy and rawness within our community.
The moment I walked into the exhibit, I was immediately drawn to what looked like a quilted blanket. It was covered in colorful sequins and had incredibly intricate details. I was so intrigued by this piece of art because of the beauty and talent it displayed. This piece of art is called “The Life Quilt”, and includes the names of 107 women who are serving life sentences in Louisiana. Selina Anderson, the artist behind the quilt, asked each of the 107 women, “What do you want the world to know about your freedom?” Each woman answered and had their names sewn into the quilt. It was clear to me that this quilt is a representation of all these women who were put together due to their circumstances, and have created their own sense of community with each other.
As I moved into the next room, I noticed a red painting that appeared very messy and gritty, covered in words that initiated a scary feeling within me. As I stopped to read what it said, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. This painting included statements that read, “ I was sixteen when my mother was killed”, “I didn’t know what to do with my grief… I took it to the streets”, “That’s how I got into prostitution and drugs”, “terrified.”, and many more soul shaking testimonials. This painting made me angry that certain circumstances led families to be broken and lives to be destroyed.
Next, I was drawn to a pop-art painting that reminded me of my favorite artist, Andy Warhol. It was a painting of a woman behind bars, sobbing as she held her baby through the bars. As I was observing this painting I couldn’t help but ask myself, what’s going to happen to that child’s life? The impact of incarcerating women extends to the lives of their families, and can be detrimental to the future of their children. This piece entitled, “She’s Somebody’s Mother”, taught me that children with incarcerated parents have higher school drop out rates and are more likely to be incarcerated by the time they reach adulthood. As I made my way through the rest of the exhibit, it was eye opening to see the light this artwork shined on unfortunate circumstances of incarcerated women in Louisiana.
I left the Newcomb Art Gallery feeling more knowledgeable about the city that I live in and the terrible circumstances these families face. It had me wondering if any of the kids I work with at a local charter school deal with these hardships. In our Education in a Diverse Society class, we discuss ways we can improve the education system for children, but we never really touch upon how their personal lives can affect the way they behave and participate in the classroom. Upon reflection of my experience of this exhibit, I see how necessary it is to focus on the social and emotional well-being of the student. The effects of having incarcerated parents can cause behavioral issues and lead kids to fall behind or drop out of school. It is important to check in on their personal lives and show them how much potential they have, despite certain circumstances they may face.