Oxford’s annual SarahFest showcased a powerful pop-up art exhibit, entitled “See Us Differently,” at the Powerhouse Community Arts center on Wednesday, which highlighted the effects of introducing the humanities into the prison system.
SarahFest is an annual arts and music festival hosted by the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. This year they joined forces with Common Good Atlanta (CGA), a program offering free college education to incarcerated individuals, to help bring the exhibit to Oxford. CGA’s “See Us Differently” exhibit is composed of multimedia artwork including bookmaking, paintings, mixed media sculptures and graphic narratives.
“The exhibit creates a place for learning, helps break the stigma surrounding the incarcerated, and is directly connected to the Center’s program theme this year, which is Feminist and Queer World Making,” said Theresa Starkey, Associate Director of the Sarah Isom Center.
To Starkey, the topic of the incarcerated remains relevant because it asks us to consider how we treat people, how we define equity and humanity and how we deal with issues of social justice, both as a community and as a nation.
The exhibit was first showcased to the public at an Atlanta art gallery in 2013 to display and celebrate the work of CGA students.
CGA officially began as an organization in 2010, offering a full college course load to those incarcerated at Phillips State Prison in Gwinnett County, Georgia.
However, the program is not strictly available to those currently within the prison system. CGA alumni and co-presenter, Patrick Rodriguez, has avidly worked over several years, now, to build up Common Good Atlanta’s alumni network, offering the same opportunities to those who have served their sentence and are seeking a new educational awakening. Following the exhibit gallery walk, Rodriguez and academic director Bill Taft led a presentation highlighting the key purposes and actions of CGA, in addition to allowing the audience to hear the valuable perspectives of numerous alumni via Zoom.
“I forgot my love of reading and writing… It was important to remember that my life did not end in prison,” said Katrina Butler, whose poem, “Maybe,” was showcased in the exhibit.
Other alumni works in the exhibit included “Forgotten Portraits,” a poem by Janine Solursh, and “Francis” by Noe Martinez — a sculptural twist on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, carved entirely from soap.
Rodriguez also unveiled his newest creation, “The Cave” — a multi-medium interpretation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which Rodriguez describes as a collaborative piece, channeling formerly incarcerated individuals’ thoughts and feelings on how they are seen in the greater community.
When asked about key takeaways from the show, Rodriguez said he hopes that viewers are able to not only see the works of art, but also the humanity of the artwork.
“We want viewers to see how art acts as a bridge between two worlds yet understand the irony of this sentence,” said Rodriguez. “We do not exist in two worlds but seek to build a bridge of compassion, understanding and forgiveness as we start conversations centered around what the future of the prison system looks like.”
Common Good Atlanta is continuing to offer programs and create a valuable community throughout the Georgia prison system. A documentary, detailing the history and mission statement of the program, is slated to release this winter.