Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

February 26, 2017

So I Went To A Comics Event On Saturday Night

I attended what was basically, I think, the closing reception for the Billy Ireland installation of Windows On Death Row, which will run through the second Sunday in March. It's a show that's run three or four places in North America and at least two in Europe.

imageThis is one of Lebanese-Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte's series of cartoon-driven installations concerning social issues, bringing to bear qualities people associate with comics and cartoon like humor, satirical insight and a diversity of voices on the political and practical viewpoints involved. The Billy Ireland installation provides a high quality mix of cartoons across four thematic organizing principles, along with art from death row inmates. The Saturday evening event included a walk-through with the curators, a reception and a speech featuring one of the artists and introduced by author Piper Kerman.

About 60 people attended, which was a nice crowd for an evening of overlapping campus events. The quality of "Windows" called for a full house. The art itself, like a lot of jailhouse art I've seen, was intriguing for its range of obviously self-taught craft with an almost routinely heartbreaking aspirational aspect, where an image might reflect a limited worldview or something the artist wishes for but isn't present. The reception was enjoyable for the attendees that weren't typical Billy event participants, a broad range of arts-interested people, at least two Kerman fans to whom I spoke, and campus denizens either ordered to be there or there for some assistance with their own death penalty related social causes.

The belle of this particular ball, though, was the presentation portion of the evening. All of those involved -- the organizers, Kerman and cartoonist Joel Pett were charming and concise, the latter of which might represent a miracle for this kind of thing. A general point made more than once involved the notion of fighting the death penalty as confronting the spear-tip for mass incarceration, a way of dulling the blade for a deeply ingrained and financially well-protected element of our country, all of which is derived from the nation's punishment culture. There was also some smart discussion of related issues, and steps to policy correction.

The show's heart was remarks from Ndume Olatushani, who spoke directly and eloquently to his decade-long incarceration on death row and what turned him around and the value of art in finding personal direction. It's one of the presentations I'll remember for the remainder of my life, the feeling of it if not the specifics. It was a moral address of the best kind. Olatushani's patience and display of character in parsing what had happened to him, and how it felt at different steps along the way, astonished most of the crowd. As pointed out several times, the activist and artist was a living example of why there shouldn't be a death penalty.

I hope to do many more shows like this in the years ahead. If you haven't seen the exhibition you have about two weeks for Ohio, or you can see it at future 2017 installations in Texas and New York City.

art by Kevin Cooper
posted 10:55 pm PST | Permalink

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