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MSU Broad Art Museum Hosts Exhibitions Addressing Mass Incarceration

An oil painting of the inside of a cafeteria area in a Michigan prison. The floor of the painting is checkered in light and dark greens. The inmates are sitting around circular tables. Some are wearing blue hats and blue jackets while others wear white tshirts and yellow hats. There's a red door painted on the back left side of the room and two white prison guards. The majority of the inmates appear to have tan, brown or black skin.
Courtesy the Prison Creative Arts Project, University of Michigan.
Rafael De Jesus, The Way It Is, 2014. One of the art pieces featured in the MSU Broad Art Museum lead exhibit: FREE YOUR MIND: ART AND INCARCERATION IN MICHIGAN.

Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum is welcoming the public to the opening of six new exhibitions focused on mass incarceration.

The exhibitions tell the stories of current and formerly incarcerated people. At any given moment in the United States there are more than two million people incarcerated or in detention facilities.

Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, the Director of the MSU Broad Art Museum, said she wants to bring attention to the reasons why the U.S. has the largest number of incarcerated people in the world.

“There's really very little awareness of what happens in the facilities and also the challenges of returning citizens," she said. "There are a lot of challenges that also as a society, we are at large unaware of.”

Ramírez-Montagut said the exhibitions focus on subjects like the length of sentencing and overcrowding in Michigan’s prisons, the impact of incarceration on women, and the dangers of COVID-19 among the incarcerated.

She said one of the exhibitions is based on the story of Bobby Jean Johnson, who spent nearly 40 years in prison after being coerced by police into confessing to murder.

“It's a black queen of a chess game. And it kind of like, pays homage to the story of someone that was innocent at the moment of her incarceration," she added.

There are more than 30,000 people currently incarcerated in Michigan. Of those individuals, more than 3,000 are serving some form of solitary confinement.

The exhibitions are open to the public through the end of the year.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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