The Pencil Is a Key
Drawings by Incarcerated Artists
The Pencil Is a Key is an exhibition of historical and contemporary drawings by incarcerated people from all over the globe. Works by artists who were or currently are prisoners will be juxtaposed with drawings by prisoners who became artists while incarcerated. Examples include drawings by political prisoners like Gustave Courbet, who was held in Saint Pélagie Prison for his role in the Paris Commune uprising of 1871; artists incarcerated during World War II as noncombatents like Hans Bellmer, who was interned in France, and a young Ruth Asawa, who was interned by the US government because she was a Japanese American; as well as artists in Soviet Gulags, Apartheid-era South Africa, in Central and South American countries under military dictatorships, and in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. The exhibition will also present drawings by members of contemporary American prison populations who found their talent through prison art programs, as well as collections of works by anonymous contemporary artist incarcerates working in drawing genres specific to prison life, like “Paños Chicanos” drawn on handkerchiefs, or envelope drawings meant to be sold or delivered through the mail.
Drawing is vital to those in captivity; it is a vehicle through which they proclaim their individuality, express their hope, and imagine their freedom. The drawings featured in this exhibition present powerful evidence of the persistence of human creativity in the most inhumane of circumstances and argue for the necessity of art—in the form of drawing—to the life of every human being. Created in extreme circumstances, the drawings in this show are weapons in the fight for justice, records that bear witness to terrible circumstances, containers of memory, and portals to a better future. Their very existence is of great significance, but their genius offers the proof of drawing’s purpose as well as the clearest explanation of why institutions like The Drawing Center must continue to present art to the public.
Organized by the curatorial team at The Drawing Center: Claire Gilman, Rosario Güiraldes, Laura Hoptman, Isabella Kapur, and Duncan Tomlin.
The Pencil Is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists is made possible by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Agnes Gund, Lonti Ebers, and the Director's Circle of The Drawing Center.
Additional support is provided by Allen Adler and Frances Beatty Adler; Burger Collection, Hong Kong; Svetlana Kuzmicheva-Uspenskaya; Dita Amory; Rashid Johnson and Sheree Hovsepian; Fiona and Eric Rudin; and Anonymous.
Support for the exhibition catalogue is provided by Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.
Special thanks to albertz benda, Andrew Edlin Gallery, David Zwirner, Donald Ellis Gallery, Galerie Buchholz, Galeria Nara Roesler, Gavlak Gallery and Ubu Gallery, New York.
Image: Azza Abo Rebieh (1980–), Nayfeh, 2016. Pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
Open Sessions 15
Point of Departure marks the fourth iteration of Open Sessions, a six-part exhibition program presented between October 2018 and January 2020 at The Drawing Center. Organized by curators Rosario Güiraldes and Lisa Sigal, Open Sessions fosters a dynamic, ever-evolving dialogue with new drawing practices and practitioners, exhibiting and contextualizing the work of early career artists who explore the nature of drawing in its many manifestations through conversation, public programs, and thematic group exhibitions.
The works on view—by Bahar Behbahani, Keren Benbenisty, Katarina Burin, Jesse Chun, Carolina Fusilier, and Rachel Granofsky—draw inspiration from American artist Paul Thek’s imaginative and unconventional approach to the medium of drawing. When Thek taught art classes at The Cooper Union in the late 1970s, he gave his students a list of eccentric instructions titled, “Teaching Notes: 4-Dimensional Design.” Using Thek’s notes as a springboard, the artists in Point of Departure created their own set of directives, combining reason and imagination to reconsider their own artistic processes. The directives’ correlating artworks include drawings for the transportation of people, memories, and belongings; renderings of disappeared Palestinian villages from 1948 to the present; as well as personal memories of civic designs in the former Yugoslavia.
Bahar Behbahani is an artist based in New York City. Her research-based practice, which includes painting, video, installation, and community engagement, weaves layers of archival material and cartographic and horticultural historical documents to produce compositions both political and poetic. Recent exhibitions include the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire; Experimental Media And Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytech, Troy, NY; Thomas Erben Gallery, New York City; The 11th Shanghai Biennale; 7th Moscow Biennale; Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Athens; The Tribeca Film Festival, New York City; the Asia Art Biennial, Bangladesh; among others. Behbahani is a Creative Capital (2019) Grant Awardee.
Keren Benbenisty is an artist based in New York City. Benbenisty’s practice examines our relationship to history by revealing both the ancient and modern constructs hidden beneath the surface of contemporary life. Recent exhibitions include those at A.I.R Gallery, Brooklyn; Soloway, Brooklyn; Mishkan Ein Harod, Israel; Petach Tikva Museum, Israel; Ulterior Gallery, New York City; The James Gallery, CUNY Graduate Center for Humanities, New York City; Tel-Aviv Museum of Art; Genia Schreiber University Gallery, Tel Aviv; The Artist House,Jerusalem; Francesca Antonini Gallery, Rome; and Human Resources, Los Angeles.
Katarina Burin is an artist based in Cambridge, MA. Burin’s artwork includes sculpture, drawing, text, and installation. Katarina has recently received a Now+There Public Art grant, a Graham Foundation grant, and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Recent solo exhibitions include Usdan Gallery at Bennington College, Neubauer Collegium of the University of Chicago, and ViPer in Prague. Upcoming solo exhibitions include Providence College Galleries in December, 2019 and Anthony Greaney in October 2019, as well as at Significant Other in Vienna in February 2020. Burin is currently lecturer at Harvard’s Art, Film and Visual Studies department.
Jesse Chun is an artist based in New York City. Chun investigates systems of language, through a variety of materials—such as aluminum, graphite, and latex—to render anew various watermarks used for official documents, certificates, and diplomas. Chun has exhibited at the Queens Museum, New York City; BAM, New York City; Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York City; and Oakville Galleries, Ontario, Canada. Select commissions and awards include the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship at ISCP (2019); Triple Canopy (2018); BRIC Media Arts Fellowship (2017); and a solo public commission at the Brooklyn Bridge Park (2016).
Carolina Fusilier is an artist based in Mexico City. Fusilier’s artwork includes video, painting, sound compositions, and installations. She has recently received The Pollock- Krasner Foundation Grant and a grant from the Jumex Foundation in Mexico City. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Locust Projects, Miami; Natalia Hug Gallery, Cologne, Germany; SOMA, Mexico City; and La Fábrica, Buenos Aires..Recent group exhibitions include those at the Sculpture Center, New York City; Vacation Gallery, New York City; Biquini Wax, Mexico City; and CCU Tlatelolco, Mexico City.
Rachel Granofsky is an artist based in New York City. Granofsky’s photographs are constructed with paint, fabric, paper, charcoal, and tape applied directly onto the surface of walls, furniture, and household objects to compose an environment that mimics the single point of view of the camera lens. She recently had a solo exhibition at Rachel Ufner Gallery in New York City and group exhibitions at various venues in South Africa, Germany, Sweden, Canada, and the United States.
About Open Sessions
Open Sessions builds on The Drawing Center’s longstanding legacy of championing work by early career artists who explore the nature of drawing in its many manifestations. Organized by curators Rosario Güiraldes and Lisa Sigal, Open Sessions is a two-year program created as a platform for artists to find new approaches for contextualizing and exhibiting their work, through conversation, public programs, and thematic group exhibitions.
Artists selected for Open Sessions 2018–20 include: Joeun Aatchim, Kenseth Armstead, Bahar Behbahani, Keren Benenisty, Katarina Burin, Esteban Cabeza de Baca, Alex Callender, Crystal Z Campbell, Ludovica Carbotta, Jesse Chun, Liz Collins, Mike Crane, Dennis RedMoon Darkeem, Theodore Darst, Billy and Steven Dufala, Jonathan Ehrenberg, Carolina Fusilier, Rachel Granofsky, LaMont Hamilton, Kunlin He, Victoria Keddie, Young Joo Lee, Lux Linder, Sharon Madanes, Guadalupe Maravilla, Zatara McIntyre, Ester Partegàs, Omid Shekari, Tariku Shiferaw, Johanna Unzueta, Cosmo Whyte.
Open Sessions is made possible by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, the Further Forward Foundation, and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
Image: Keren Benbenisty,
The Place of the Fold
(still), 2018. Two-channel video and sound installation from the project Fajja, 12 minutes.
In October, 2019, Chicago artist Edie Fake will create a site-specific wall drawing in the stairwell of The Drawing Center lobby. Fake’s installation will be the fourth in a series following Inka Essenhigh’s Manhattanhenge (April 2018–August 2019), Gary Simmons’s Ghost Reels (October 2016–February 2018), and Abdelkader Benchamma’s Dark Matter (April 2015–August 2016).
Edie Fake (b. 1980, Chicago) is known for his drawings of architecture, both real and visionary, that represent what the artist calls “Queer Space.” Using kaleidoscopic color schemes and vibrating maze-like motifs, Fake creates psychical maps of spaces in which LGBTQ+ communities traditionally sought out self-identification. Fake floods his drawings with overlapping patterns and architectural features: labyrinthine walls, doors, windows, and swimming pools among others. Simultaneously bold and disorienting, Fake’s eclectic drawings function as visual metaphors for the experience of LGBTQ+ identity, which can be both empowering and destabilizing.
At The Drawing Center, Fake will realize his architectural fantasies in an actual built space. Overlaying an imagined maze-like architectural façade onto the walls of the stairwell, Fake will turn the liminal space into an homage to the Labyrinth Foundation, an early organization for trans men established in the late 1960s in Chicago. The elaborate façade will dissolve into the same winding patterns and paths that populate Fake’s individual drawings, a reference to the myriad unmapped territories and paths through trans identity.
Edie Fake: Labyrinth is made possible by Marlborough; the Toby Devan Lewis Donor Advised Fund of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland; Gary Metzner and Scott Johnson; John Robin Baitz; billy ocallaghan and mark gross; and Western Exhibitions.
Image: Edie Fake, Sketch for Labyrinth at The Drawing Center, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.