UC Santa Cruz Institute of Arts and Sciences, the San José Museum of Art, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice present Barring Freedom, a New Arts Initiative on Prisons, Policing, and Justice from October 2020 through July 2021

  • SAN JOSE, California
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  • October 08, 2020

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Hank Willis Thomas, "If the Leader Only Knew, 2014." Bronze. Approximately 80 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.
UC Santa Cruz Institute of Arts and Sciences

The exhibition at San José Museum of Art and a participatory public art project at UC Santa Cruz will be on view from October 30, 2020–April 25, 2021, followed by a presentation of the exhibition at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City

Online programs launch on October 20, 2020 with a conversation between noted prison abolitionists Angela Y. Davis and Gina Dent

The Institute of the Arts and Sciences at University of California, Santa Cruz (IAS), the San José Museum of Art (SJMA), and John Jay College of Criminal Justice are pleased to announce Barring Freedom, a new initiative on art, prisons, policing, and justice. With a contemporary art exhibition, participatory public art project, interactive website, and online event series, Barring Freedom engages audiences nation-wide around critical issues of mass incarceration, policing, and the ongoing struggles for racial and economic justice. Building on the legacy of research, education, and activism at UC Santa Cruz, including the contributions of Distinguished Professor Emerita Angela Y. Davis, the initiative highlights the important creative work underway by artists, activists, and scholars to imagine alternatives to current injustices. Programming is ongoing from October 2020 through July 2021. 

Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts, "Redaction III," 2019. Etching and silkscreen on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Titus Kaphar Studio.
UC Santa Cruz Institute of Arts and Sciences

At the center of Barring Freedom is a bi-coastal exhibition that will debut at the San José Museum of Art on October 30, 2020 and run through April 25, 2021. Solitary Garden, a participatory public art project made in collaboration between artist jackie sumell, UC Santa Cruz students, and Tim Young—who is currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison—will simultaneously be on view at UC Santa Cruz. Barring Freedom will travel to New York City, on view at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2021.   

The artists in Barring Freedom were chosen for how their works engage the complex and historical social issues within the US criminal justice system. Artists include: American Artist; Sadie Barnette; Sanford Biggers; Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick; Sonya Clark; Sharon Daniel; Maria Gaspar; Ashley Hunt; Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman; Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts; Deana Lawson; Prison Renaissance; Sherrill Roland; Dread Scott; jackie sumell; Hank Willis Thomas; Patrice Renee Washington; and Levester Williams.   

The exhibition will be supported by a series of online events on Visualizing Abolition, organized with Professor Gina Dent, feminist studies, UC Santa Cruz. With panel discussions, artist talks, and film screenings, the online events will emphasize the importance of the arts and creative practices in envisioning alternatives to ongoing injustices.   

Visualizing Abolition will launch on October 20, 2020 with a conversation between noted prison abolitionists Angela Y. Davis and Gina Dent. Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative, will be featured on October 27, 2020 and online events will continue through May 2021.   

“We have spent over four years talking with artists, activists, and scholars around the United States about prisons and policing and how the arts can bring light to these issues. We hope this program will add to the ongoing conversations and both highlight and inspire creative solutions to our humanitarian crisis,” said Rachel Nelson, interim director of UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences. “With more than two million incarcerated people, a majority of them Black or Brown, virtually all of them from poor communities—our prisons, jails, and detention centers reveal a troubled vision at the heart of the United States. Our goal for Barring Freedom is to forge a new path to end these profound injustices and galvanize broad public concern to address the broken promise of freedom and justice for all in the United States.”    

Maria Gaspar, "On the Border of What is Formless and Monstrous," 2016. Five-channel sound and video installation. Courtesy of the artist.
UC Santa Cruz Institute of Arts and Sciences

“While Barring Freedom was conceptualized before the current crises, the unequal and ongoing effects of COVID-19 and the heightened public awareness of police killings of Black people in this country have brought into sharp relief the consequences of structural racism,” said Lauren Schell Dickens, senior curator at San José Museum of Art. “Artists are crucial to imagining our way out of these crises. Working in ways both poetic and visceral, the artists in Barring Freedom show that our current systems of oppression are neither natural nor inevitable, and in doing so, open up space for envisioning a future beyond mass incarceration.”   

As Angela Y. Davis cautions, reflecting on the current situation of mass incarceration and policing, “Dangerous limits have been placed on the very possibility of imagining alternatives.” It is with the urgency of the times that the exhibition underscores the importance of artists and creative practitioners in envisioning a world beyond the problems of policing and overflowing prisons that currently bar people from freedom in the United States.  

Visualizing Abolition Schedule

All events are from 45:30pm PDT/PST unless otherwise noted.
Registration is required. Visit: ias.ucsc.edu/visualizingabolition

October 15, 2020         

Third Thursdays: Abolition 101

Gina Dent

October 20,2020         

Visualizing Abolition

Angela Y. Davis and Gina Dent

October 27, 2020

Images, Memory, and Justice

Bryan Stevenson 

November 13, 2020

Black Quantum Futurism

Moor Mother and Rasheedah Phillips

November 17, 2020

Visuality and Carceral Formations

Nicole Fleetwood, Herman Gray, Nicholas Mirzoeff

November 30, 2020, 4pm–12am PST

In collaboration with McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, an online screening of Isaac Julien's Lessons of the Hour


December 1, 2020, 12–1:30pm PST

Abolition Then and Now                            

Isaac Julien and Robin D.G. Kelley

January 19, 2021

Prisons, Histories, and Erasures

Joanne Barker, Maria Gaspar, and Kelly Lytle Hernández

January 26, 2021

Prisons and Poetics

Reginald Dwayne Betts 

February 2, 2021

Surveillance and Cinematics

American Artist, Simone Browne, Ruha Benjamin

February 9, 2021

Material and Memory

Sanford Biggers and Leigh Raiford

February 23, 2021

Abolitionist Feminisms

Beth Richie, Erica Meiners, and Sonya Clark

April 20, 2021

(Re)Enacting Revolution

Dread Scott and Erin Gray

May 4, 2021

Documenting Justice

Film screening and Q&A curated by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman

May 11, 2021


Sora Han, adrienne maree brown, Savannah Shange



Barring Freedom is supported by the SJMA Exhibitions Fund, with contributions from Glenda and Gary Dorchak and Rita and Kent Norton.  

Programs at the San José Museum of Art are made possible by generous support from the Museum's Board of Trustees, a Cultural Affairs Grant from the City of San José, the Lipman Family Foundation, Yvonne and Mike Nevens, Facebook Art Department, the Richard A. Karp Charitable Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Adobe, Yellow Chair Foundation, the SJMA Director's Council and Council of 100, the San José Museum of Art Endowment Fund established by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and The William Randolph Hearst Foundation. 

About UC Santa Cruz Institute of the Arts and Sciences  

The Institute of the Arts and Sciences is an interdisciplinary exhibition and event forum in the Arts Division of the University of California, Santa Cruz. The IAS's mission is to harness the creative power of the arts and the sciences to explore big questions and critical issues of our time. It contributes to the cultural life of UC Santa Cruz and features the work of nationally renowned artists and groundbreaking scientists and scholars. The IAS offers a range of public programs, sponsors residencies, and curates and organizes an ambitious exhibition program.

About San José Museum of Art 

SJMA is located at 110 South Market Street in downtown San José, California near the Plaza de César Chavez. The Museum is temporarily closed, following the Santa Clara County orders to Shelter in Place due to COVID-19. SJMA continues to offer programming online and has expanded digital content by creating a Museum From Home page, found here: sjmusart.org/museum-from-home. Updated weekly, the section features behind-the-scene explorations of exhibitions, art-making videos, educator lesson plans, a Curators’ Dashboard, and more. SJMA is planning to reopen October 30, 2020, however, given the fluctuating City and County guidelines due to Covid-19, please visit SanJoseMuseumofArt.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and free to members, college students, youth and children ages 17 and under, and schoolteachers (with valid ID). For more information, call 408.271.6840 or visit SanJoseMuseumofArt.org. 

About John Jay School of Criminal Justice 

The Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery is the primary fine art gallery at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a senior college of the City University of New York in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The program features a variety of media and concepts, but is heavily focused on social issues and the humanities. Opened in 2013, the gallery is 4,050 square feet and is located on the ground floor of John Jay's 620,000-square foot building that sits on 11th Avenue and 59th Street in New York City, a four block walk from Central Park. The building was designed by Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. 


Melanie Samay, director of marketing and communications, San José Museum of Art, msamay@sjmusart.org, 415.722.0555

Maureen Dixon Harrison, assistant director, arts communications, University of California, Santa Cruz, maureen@ucsc.edu, 831.459.3277

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