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Jailbird Installations

Painted birds stood in for prisoners, guards, and judges in the installation “Jail Birds & Flowers” at the Kleinert James Center for the Arts in Woodstock, NY, 2014.  

In 2015, I reworked the installation in Catskill, NY, as Jail Birds & The New Jim Crow. It was part of a two county program on Creating Justice at the Greene County Council for the Arts Gallery on Main Street. The New Jim Crow references Michelle Alexander’s book of the same name.

At both installations, four persons who had worked professionally or volunteered in prisons, spoke and Andre Noel, who had learned modern dance from a volunteer choreographer, Susan Slotnick, during part of his fifteen year incarceration, spoke and performed on the installation.

Both projects drew large, vociferous crowds including mothers of inmates, ex-prisoners, and reformers, eager to tell their own harsh experiences and calling for changes in the penal system of arrests and treatment of inmates. There are several New York State prisons in the nearby areas.

The Displaced

I was impressed how many Canadians were taking immigrant families into their homes.  That influenced me to accept an offer by Critical Practices Project to do an exhibit in a live-in loft in New York City,  It was a symbolic gesture on my part, to show paintings, drawings and small installations of refugees, migrants, prisoners, and abused women and girls, among the pots and pans of a household environment. I entitled the show “The Displaced”. The wall and floor painting “The Griot Cloth” created a space for four speakers to tell their own experiences of being displaced through war, discrimination or family difficulties. 

Here is Nikky Draven on opening night.

Code Red

Nikky Draven and I painted “Code Red” together in my studio, taking turns figuring out with paint and images of guns how to represent the shooting at the Margery Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.  The words of the students under siege come alive:  “Hide” “He’s Coming” “Don’t Hang Up”. “Call Mommy”.

 This 4 X 8 foot work on corrugated cardboard was part of the intergenerational show “Dimensions” at the Joan Mitchell Foundation Gallery in NYC emphasizing how artists of different ages mentor each other.

On 14th St

 As the Human Talking & Listening Machine on 14thStreet, I engaged passersby to speak their minds about segregation, discrimination, relatives in jail, and daily life experiences. People had a lot to say, sometime as simple as “I’ve lost my keys” or “We got a new puppy.” 

Heads and faces painted in red on a black Duvetyn  created the small stage. 

Collaborator Nicky Draven was there in solitary confinement in a high gray box looking through a small window with bars, and Gavin Brown acted as front man and carried the sign. Free prison bars were there for the taking.

This sidewalk offering was part of the yearly river to river event by Art in Odd Places, 2019.


How to express the six year prison experience of Andrea Martin, one of 30 formerly incarcerated women who chose artists to tell their stories! 

Through phone conversations, videos and photos we came to know and care about each other, and with paint, collage, and cutouts, I put together the poetry of her own words in a 8 X 5 foot canvas including images of herself and of Marilyn Wilson who had rescued her and her possessions from a rainy New Orleans street corner.

 The exhibit, entitled (Per)Sister: Incarceration Women of Louisiana, was created at the Newcomb Museum in New Orleans in 2019 and transplanted to the Ford Foundation Gallery in NYC in 2020. On opening night, the women, who accompanied the show to New York, joined the crowd and spoke of their histories behind bars.

Red Installation: “We Are Real”

“It’s like we’re in there with them.”  These words set the tone for the Red Installation: “We Are Real,” an 8 foot high, 15 foot wide and 12 foot deep installation using drawing, painting, and cutouts to portray how mass incarceration is affecting Black families in America. The installation provides a platform for family members to tell their own stories as well as space for performance.

Gustavo Ramirez on Prisons and Capital

Andre Noel: Beyond the Bars

A talk by Andre Noel as part of a panel discussion at the Beyond the Bars exhibit in Catskill, NY on October 15, 2015.