Artist and writer Sable Elyse Smith and author Nicole R. Fleetwood discuss their research into the carceral, the personal and the political. This talk was recorded in November 2019
Through work that resists simplistic narratives of criminality and justice, both Smith and Fleetwood aim to complicate the relationship between visual culture and the prison industrial complex. In this conversation, Smith and Fleetwood discuss mass imprisonment and racialised violence in the US, reflecting on questions of consent and representation while foregrounding the liberatory properties of the creative act.
Fleetwood’s term ‘carceral aesthetics’ conceptualises the horror of the carceral state and the expressive capacity of those held captive within it. Her work asks how incarcerated populations turn their sentences into practices that resist the isolation, dehumanisation and austerity that prison enforces.
Smith’s work counters narratives of criminality – interrogating the instability of language, power and the construct of social history. Rooted in visual explorations of ordinary objects, Smith’s work raises issues of labour, memory and class to explore how trauma embeds itself in the everyday.
Sable Elyse Smith is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator based in New York and Richmond, Virginia. Using video, sculpture, photography, and text, she points to the carceral, the personal, the political and the quotidian to speak about a violence that is largely unseen, and potentially imperceptible. She is currently Assistant Professor of Sculpture & Extended Media at the University of Richmond.
Nicole R. Fleetwood is Professor of American Studies and Art History at Rutgers, New Brunswick. Her books are Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration (2020), On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination (2015), and Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness (2011). She is co-editor of Aperture magazine’s ‘Prison Nation’, a special issue focusing on photography’s role in documenting mass incarceration and had curated numerous exhibitions and public programs on art and mass incarceration.