Cruel and Unusual
exhibition curated by
Hester Keijser and
Cruel and Unusual is an exhibition of unexpected and narrative-rich photography from behind prison walls. The exhibition by guest curators Hester Keijser and Pete Brook showcases the work of Araminta de Clermont, Amy Elkins, Alyse Emdur, Christiane Feser, Jane Lindsay, Deborah Luster, Nathalie Mohadjer, Yana Payusova, Lizzie Sadin, Lori Waselchuk, and others. Much of the work is being shown in the Netherlands for the first time.
Cruel and Unusual looks at how prison systems are depicted and what those depictions tell us. As taxpayers and empathetic humans, how well informed are we of the lives and experiences within penal institutions? How are images of locked facilities manufactured, distributed and consumed? United by what might be considered a limiting subject matter, the exhibited photographers employ a wide range of approaches, materials and techniques, depending on the amount of access granted, and varying from vernacular photography, alternative processes, texts, painted photos, digital manipulations to straight black and white documentary.
In the U.S. the expense and failure of prisons has come under increasing scrutiny since the global economic recession. Over a period of just 40 years, failed 'tough on crime' policies, sensationalist TV media, prison privatization, and a misinformed public contributed to a near 500% increase of the U.S. prison population. Recent arms trade figures show heavy investments in military crowd control systems across Africa, the wider Middle East and beyond. Incarceration is one of the many instruments put into place by states fearing popular revolts and riots threatening their internal stability.
Europe, too, has seen steady increases in the number of people behind bars, accompanied by matching increases in calls for more severe punishments. Prisons are "home" for over 9 million people on this planet, and their numbers are likely to increase in the coming decades. As curators, we hope this show will act as a moment to ask ourselves what our different societies should hope to achieve by (mass) incarcerating those who transgress.
The title of the show, Cruel and Unusual, refers to a long-established legal term that first appeared in the 1689 English Bill of Rights. Adopted in the late 18th century as part of the U.S. Constitution, the 8th Amendment declares: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” In 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that understanding of "cruel and unusual punishments" should change over time, being those punishments which offend society's "evolving sense of decency." Each of the presented projects urges the viewer to ask the question: into what is our sense of decency evolving?
— Hester Keijser and Pete Brook
Cruel and Unusual
Hester Keijser and Pete Brook
February 18 - April 1, 2012
Stichting Fotografie Noorderlicht
9711 JB Groningen