Slavery, the Prison Industrial Complex: Photographs by Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick

Feb 08, 2019 — May 18, 2019

Curated by Susan H. Edwards, PhD, Director & Katie Delmez, Curator

Slavery, the Prison Industrial Complex reveals how a New Orleans husband-and-wife team uses their cameras as tools for social engagement and reminds their audiences of persistent racial inequities, especially throughout the American criminal justice system. The exhibition focuses on the couple’s decades long examination of life inside Angola, Louisiana’s state penitentiary, and the impact incarceration has on the extended family. Approximately twenty-five of their poignant photographs document the exploitation of the men living within the maximum-security prison farm, while also showcasing the prisoners’ humanity and individual narratives. Groupings include images of the prisoners at work in the fields, evoking the history of the land as a working plantation; penetrating portraits of men looking directly and somberly at the photographer and viewer; scenes from a rodeo that has taken place every April and October since 1965 in which the prisoners are the main attraction; and gripping moments from when inmates are at times allowed to leave the 18,000-acre campus to attend the funerals of close family members. The photographs will be accompanied by videos that record the release of three exonerated inmates, and their stories of life in and out of prison.

For more than 30 years, photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick have been documenting African-American life in and around their native New Orleans. Partners in life and work, Calhoun and McCormick are entuned with one another as well as the rich, complex and sometimes contradictory gumbo of Louisiana identity. Their subject matter documents the local street life, parades, jazz funerals, religious ceremonies, and neighborhood gatherings of New Orleans. They capture with alacrity the sentient aspects of the Bayou culture from music and food to the mystique of the Louisiana demi-monde. Further afield they chronicle how the expansion of agribusiness is impacting agricultural communities in the region and life in the women’s and men’s penitentiaries.

This exhibition was organized by the Frist Art Museum, Nashville, Tennessee.    

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