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While inside, formerly incarcerated folks are often forced to get creative, given their deprivation of resources—making gourmet meals out of Cheetos, painting with melted Skittles, building curriculums out of dated magazine issues, and even interior designing their cells. “We were going without so much, we had to be inventive,” Sherrill says. “So I wanted to challenge myself with these same limited tools.” What manifested was Sherrill’s latest exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York City, “Hindsight Bias.” The exhibition is a collection of four sculptures with the physical and symbolic makeup of carceral material, and it ends this Saturday, February 5.
There are hanging acrylic envelopes that feature stamps from the Department of Corrections stating they do not take responsibility for any content written by incarcerated residents (ironic, as Sherrill points out, that they relinquish ownership of a space where they feign owning its human beings). There are three cinder-block etched sculptures, outlined by blue and red Kool-Aid, inspired by the touches of home Sherrill found inside jail: The cinder-block cell walls he would trace while thinking about home, paired with the nostalgic joy of Kool-Aid mix.
What follows are two transparent cubes that separately frame a basketball hoop and a see-through prize bag of commissary goods, which is a reference to how even when Sherrill and his incarcerated neighbors would create basketball tournaments with prizes, they were still confined and surveilled by guards. And, perhaps most sentimentally, Sherrill has overlaid words from Valentine’s Day letters that he wrote to the mother of his child while incarcerated laser-etched in acrylic to resemble the security glass.
Each sculpture could certainly have its own article outlining every material used, its relation to Sherrill’s time inside, and how he mentally untangled his lived experience from the outside. That’s because Sherrill’s intentionality is beautifully complex; and, moreover, it is a key example of why systems-involved individuals are an asset to the artistic community.
Historically, the world of art and design has been accessible to those of a certain economic status and race. Even though power dynamics are slowly-but-surely shifting in regards to diversifying perspectives, the art and design world still mimics other industries when it comes to formerly incarcerated individuals. When we talk about life after incarceration, we discuss the rights many systems-involved individuals unjustly scramble to have—from housing to a GED. But what of the rights that climb Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? What of the artists themselves?
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