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

February 23–May 28, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (January 23, 2018)—The Frist Art Museum presents photographs by New Orleans natives Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Opening February 23, 2018, in the Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery, Slavery, the Prison Industrial Complex features the husband-and-wife team’s poignant photographs of life and labor practices on the prison farm, the largest maximum-security prison in the United States. 

Calhoun and McCormick have been documenting African American life in Louisiana for more than 30 years. Since 1980, they have made regular visits to Angola, which was founded on the consolidated land of several cotton and sugarcane plantations and named for the country of origin for many of the slaves who worked the land (incidentally, Nashvillian Adelicia Acklen inherited the land that formed the Louisiana State Penitentiary from her first husband in 1845 and owned it until 1880). 

Angola is also called “The Farm” because it continues to grow cash crops—as much as four million pounds a year—using inmate labor. “In the minds of Calhoun and McCormick, slavery never really ended at Angola,” says Frist Art Museum curator Katie Delmez. “As first-hand witnesses to exploitative labor practices, they use their cameras as tools for social engagement, reminding their audiences of persistent racial inequities, especially throughout the American criminal justice system.”

The 22 mostly black-and-white images record the exploitation of the men incarcerated while also showcasing the nuances of prisoners’ individual narratives. Frist Art Museum executive director and photography historian Dr. Susan H. Edwards writes in the exhibition gallery guide, “The photographs are not marked by rancor or righteous indignation. Rather, the artists’ expressions of social protest are imbued with humility and encourage you to consider the full humanity of their subjects.”

Since 1965, inmates have participated in the Angola Rodeo that takes place on the prison property twice a year. “The spectacle, captured in the artists’ images, recalls how gladiators entertained the public in the Colosseum in ancient Rome,” says Edwards. Also on view are emotionally charged photographs of inmates furloughed to attend family funerals and video documentation of exonerated prisoners being released.

Largely self-taught, the couple began their artistic careers photographing festivals, second line parades, and neighborhood gatherings in New Orleans. In 2005, many of their negatives spanning three decades of work were damaged by hurricane Katrina floodwaters. Years later, they printed the negatives and incorporated the mold and mildew blooms into the work, which produced abstract effects, shadows of other works, and layers of interpretation. “By co-opting the degradation on the negatives, Calhoun and McCormick embraced the enduring evidence of the harsh ramifications of the storm on New Orleans,” notes Dr. Edwards in her essay in the exhibition publication Louisiana Medley.

The post-Katrina recovery process led the couple to redouble their community engagement efforts. Their intimate understanding of prison culture and the importance of intervention before incarceration, has informed their activism not only on behalf of individuals directly involved with correctional facilities, but also in their own New Orleans community, where they teach photography to at-risk youth and have made their studio a welcoming environment in the neighborhood.

Publication

The Frist Art Museum has produced a hardcover book titled Louisiana Medley about the couple’s work. Published by Lucia ∣ Marquand, the book includes 70 plates, a foreword by Dr. Deborah Willis, chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, a career overview by Frist Art Museum executive director and photography historian Dr. Susan H. Edwards, and an essay by Dr. Makeda Best, Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography, Harvard Art Museums, that places the images of Slavery, the Prison Industrial Complex in the context of other prison photographs.

Exhibition Credit

This exhibition was organized by the Frist Art Museum.

Exhibition Tour

After the Frist Art Museum’s presentation, the exhibition will travel to additional venues, including artist Mark Bradford’s gallery space in Los Angeles, Art + Practice in the fall of 2018 and the Hilliard University Art Museum at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2019.

Public Programs

Thursday, March 8   
Film: 13th
Post-film Q&A with Project Return

7:00 p.m.     
Frist Art Museum Auditorium
Free; first come, first seated

Shown in conjunction with Slavery, the Prison Industrial Complex: Photographs by Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick, the acclaimed documentary film 13th looks in depth at the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which abolished slavery and indentured servitude. In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists, and politicians analyze the prison industrial complex and the history of racial inequality in the United States.

Following the screening, stay for a special Q&A with Project Return, a nonprofit non-faith-based organization that provides an extensive array of supportive services for individuals returning to society after incarceration. Directed by Ava DuVernay, 2016. 100 minutes. Rated TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17). Netflix.

Thursday, April 26   
Concert: Songs of Freedom Presented with the National Museum of African American Music
6:30 p.m.   
 
Frist Art Museum Auditorium   
Free; first come, first seated

Music has been used throughout history to unite communities in the face of injustice. From early spirituals to civil rights era freedom songs to jazz and blues recorded at Angola Prison, music serves as its own language, conveying messages that could not be expressed by words alone. Join us for a celebratory evening of music in partnership with the National Museum of African American Music.

Friday, April 27   
Photography and Activism: A Conversation with Keith Calhoun, Chandra McCormick, and Dr. Makeda Best M
oderated by Susan H. Edwards, Executive Director and CEO, Frist Art Museum 
noon
Frist Art Museum Auditorium   
Free; first come, first seated   

The works in Slavery, the Prison Industrial Complex: Photographs by Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick bring visibility to racial inequality in the US criminal justice system and document the exploitation of men incarcerated in the Louisiana’s state penitentiary. In this conversation, the artists are joined by Dr. Makeda Best, Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at Harvard Art Museums, and Dr. Susan H. Edwards, executive director of the Frist Art Museum and photography historian, to explore the role of photography in activism and how artists can become agents of social change.

Sponsor Acknowledgment

Supported in part by the Friends of Contemporary Art and by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts

Connect with us!  #FristAngola


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About the Frist Art Museum
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Art Museum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Art Museum offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. The Frist Art Museum’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features interactive stations relating to Frist Art Museum exhibitions. Information on accessibility can be found at FristArtMuseum.org/accessibility. Gallery admission is free for visitors 18 and younger and for members; $12 for adults; $9 for seniors and college students with ID; and $7 for active military. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5:00–9:00 p.m. Groups of 10 or more can receive discounts with advance reservations by calling 615.744.3247. The galleries, café, and gift shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00–5:30 p.m., with the café opening at noon. For additional information, call 615.244.3340 or visit FristArtMuseum.org.
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