Amy Elkins “black is the day black is the night”


With the many social issues facing society today how as artists can we bring attention to them.  We watch news feeds each day only to be appalled, surprised, angered often to forget the next day with the next piece of news we hear.  Sometimes so overwhelmed with helplessness that we give up.

Amy Elkins has created a piece of work bringing attention to inmates in Prison in the US.  Specifically inmates on death row.  Many of them have spent much of their time in isolation, they are young adults who have spent more time in prison than outside. It is worth mentioning that there are many in the US who make money out of prisons.  It is a business.  They are not all state owned but rented.  Even recently it was shown how a Judge was sentencing inmates to his own prison therefore making money out of each inmate sent there.

Elkins tells us that 1 out of 100 Americans have been in prison at some stage.  This tells us there is something fundamentally wrong with society.  Racism,

Excerpt from Article

“In the recently published 465-page National Academic Press study The Growth of Incarceration in the United States (2014), the statistics are shocking: in the last four decades the rate of imprisonment in the US has quadrupled – one in one-hundred people are currently in prison; the prison population is predominantly comprised of poor, ethnic minority men under forty years of age; more than half the prison population suffer from a mental illness or drug addiction; and there has been a 400% increase in prison spending, much of this allocated to basic amenities scaled up to manage large numbers of inmates, which as a result leaves lacklustre funding for prison education and psychological rehabilitation. By these results, the punitive turn is one that disavows the idea of prison as a ‘correctional’ facility – ideally one in which adults might receive mental health support and education in order to prepare them for living in the outside world – and instead reframes it as a place of permanent residence for socially immobile people of colour. Its financial structure is for profit and its politics are indisputably racist.”

Going back to Elkins work she has created a body of work that is not immediately evident but there are images that lead us to her story.  The prison food tray which she bought on ebay.   Her pixelated images of the inmates where we cannot see their faces.  She has pixelated them in ratio to what percentage of their life they have spent in prison.  We cannot see the inmates features at all as for example one 32 year old man who has been in prison since he was 13.  The inmates write to her of memories of landscapes which she has tried to recreate with layers where we can see the clouds that have passed overhead, the trees swayed in the wind grown and changed over time.  The landscape images again try to represent the landscape over time while they have been in prison.  The exhibit and book intertwined with personal writing and poetry extracts from one inmate.

With media influence and fear of violence it is difficult to get sympathy for inmates on death row.  Most feel dangerous people should be kept off the streets. Elkins work is informed how can a 13 year old be put into prison and then death row.  What is fundamentally wrong with our prison system.  What is the point of a correctional institution if it does not correct.  Why are funds not been put more importantly into education, rehabilitation or development in poorer areas of the country.  How has America failed its population if 1 in 100 people have been in prison.

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