Inside prisons across the U.S., incarcerated people struggle everyday for their basic rights, claiming again and again their status as human beings. Here, within the largest democracy in the world (conditional though it may be), incarcerated people suffer indignities from terrible living conditions to physical and sexual violence, all under the aegis of justice.
As a tool to discuss the limits and ideals of human rights within a carceral state, artists at Stateville Prison, who struggle daily for their own human rights, created block prints of each article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The process of drawing, carving, and inking each print created the time and space for artists to critique and reflect on the ways the declaration is simultaneously aspirational, strategic, and fraught with the legacy of the violence of its founding states. For universal human rights to be relevant, it is essential that the most impacted people be heard and their vision of human rights centered.
This project is an exhibition featuring the 30 brilliantly crafted prints of each article from the declaration. The work is also presented as a book, presented alongside essays and poems. The artists and authors ask essential questions of what it means to build a culture of human rights from below rather than institute rights from above. What happens when people denied their rights, begin to reimagine and carve them out once again?
This project was inspired by Meredith Stern’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights print project and developed in a class taught by Aaron Hughes through the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project.
The book, Carving Out Rights from Inside the Prison Industrial Complex, was edited by Aaron Hughes, Sarah Ross, and Tara Betts
Artwork by Carlos Josúe Ayala, Aryules Bivens, Robert Boyd, Jeffery Campbell, Alan “Wolf” Christensen, Joe Dole, Francisco Estrada, Darrell Wayne Fair, Salvador Herrera, Alex Koehler, Juan Luna, Charles McLaurin, Willie Moses McGee III, Flynard N. Miller, Zachary Meeks, Rickey Lee Quezada, and Marshall William Stewart
Text by Benny Rios Donjuan, Darrell Wayne Fair, Renaldo Hudson, Aaron Hughes, Alice Kim, Barbara Ransby, Christophe Ringer, Sarah Ross, and Meredith Stern
Poetry by Tara Betts, Eric Blackmon, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Martín Espada, torrin a. greathouse, Tyehimba Jess, Timothy Malone, Tony Medina, Zachary Meeks, Nikki Patin, Sonia Sanchez, and Courtney Wright
Cover Design Damon Locks