Geographies of Detention
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Tiffany López arrived at the California Museum of Photography Saturday evening wearing a bright blue blouse, dangling earrings, and wedge heels. As López, Professor of Theatre and Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at UC Riverside, explained to the audience at the June 1 panel discussion at the Culver Center in Riverside, she chose this outfit because it represented what she could not wear the next day when she went to visit her brother who is currently incarcerated in a California state prison.
These details -- intimate but often unheard -- weaved throughout the discussion López moderated for the opening of "Geographies of Detention: From Guantánamo to the Golden Gulag" at the CMP. The panel brought together four artists and activists whose work is featured in the exhibition -- Sandow Birk, Alyse Emdur, Kevin Michael Key, and Setsu Shigematsu -- to discuss prison spaces, imprisoned people, and the prison industrial complex.
Birk shared how he came to paint the prison landscapes displayed in the CMP's first floor galleries, remarking that he had been drawn to the idealized visions of California depicted in 19th Century paintings when he heard on the radio that California had the largest prison population in the world. He then decided to paint prisons. He'd never really seen one, but the figure seemed to complicate those early, idyllic images of California as Eden.