Nicole R. Fleetwood

  • James “Yaya” Hough, Untitled, 2014, paper, ink, pencil, watercolor, 8 1/2 x 11".
    interviews May 10, 2021

    Invisible Ink

    AT THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN, James “Yaya” Hough was sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania, a state responsible for sentencing more Black youth to life than almost any other. Told that he would never be released from prison, he turned that death sentence into a rigorous reading and art practice, spending hours a day with his sketchbooks drawing, painting watercolors, and working on communal murals inside the facility. He describes his daily routine as taking on a spiritual character, a “discipline,” but not in any punitive sense. He was known and admired inside prison for his pen drawings

  • Jesse Krimes, Purgatory, 2009, prison-issued soap, newsprint transfer, playing cards, 3 1⁄2 × 2 1⁄2".


    WE CAN ALL AGREE NOW that American prisons are a malignant feature of contemporary life, broadening inequalities, destroying families, worsening racial disparities, and facilitating widespread state-sanctioned premature death, to name just a few of the most obvious iniquities. But inside these prisons, people do find imaginative ways to survive. The institutional culture of incarceration has spawned individual and communal acts of inspired genius—acts credited entirely to people, and not to the prisons where they are forced to live—modalities of making and ways of surviving that involve types


    TAMECA COLE began writing and making collages while imprisoned in Alabama as a way to create space for her survival. Locked in a Dark Calm, 2016, is a composite portrait; the face, enveloped in a gray cloud, is only partially revealed. She made it as a response to the mistreatment she suffered from prison guards. Commissioned for these pages, Cole’s Dark Chaos: The Aftermath, 2020, extends her compositional experimentation, juxtaposing an eye from a color photograph of the artist with one eye and the nose of George Floyd. It is both a self-portrait and a memorial to the man whose murder by