Hank Willis Thomas and Dr. Baz Dreisinger: The Writing on the Wall
On view: October 31 – November 10
The High Line
A new art installation is coming to the High Line at the end of October, highlighting international justice reform. Titled The Writing on The Wall, the exhibit will display essays, poems, letters, and stories written by inmates layered on acrylic panels designed by MASS design group, imitating the walls of a prison. These panels will be placed in rooms the same size as cell blocks that visitors can walk through, creating a fully immersive experience. The public eye never sees prison cells, but the writing of those incarcerated proves creativity exists and is worthy of display even when it comes from a highly private and controversial space.
The U.S media highly scrutinizes the catastrophically broken prison system. Americans loudly question why prison time is given to non-violent offenders, such as those caught selling or possessing small amounts of marijuana, but not to the white police officers who are ruthlessly and carelessly shooting unarmed black men and women. The argument of who belongs behind bars and for how long is an issue not only Americans but people worldwide are deeply concerned with. The exhibit raises questions of which voices deserve to be heard by the public, and encourages empathy as the thoughts and emotions of a group who is often looked down upon by society is on full display.
Dr. Baz Dreisinger, a 2018 Global Fulbright Scholar, and artist Hank Willis Thomas, who focuses on popular culture and identity through conceptual art, are the masterminds behind the project. Dr. Dreisinger collected the writings while teaching in prisons around the US and the world. Their goal was to spread awareness for justice reform. Along with the exhibition, The High Line will include public programming focused on criminal justice along. Videos from those advocating for communities impacted by mass incarceration will be screened throughout the exhibit, beginning at dusk until the outdoor space closes.
The High Line is no stranger to compelling art exhibits that portray an essential message. The outdoor space draws in millions of visitors, making it an excellent area to bring together cultural programming and urban design. Janelle Grace, the High Line Art Communications Manager, explains that art displayed in such a public space is a way of creating a meaningful conversation about pressing issues in the world, which is one of the critical parts of life in a big city. The display will be shown in other areas of the country, namely the BeltLine in Atlanta and Philadelphia’s Rail Park after November 10th. The rotating exhibit gives Dr. Dreisinger and the artist a chance to broadcast the message to as many people as possible.
The installation goes up on the High Line on 14th street October 31st.