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.
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.
Wasteland: Open Sessions 16
Wasteland marks the fifth 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.
Featuring works by Esteban Cabeza de Baca, Crystal Z Campbell, Theodore Darst, Jonathan Ehrenberg, Young Joo Lee, Omid Shekari, and Tariku Shiferaw, Wasteland explores image production as an excessive physiological and psychological stimulus. The artists speculate on how digital media, virtual borders, surveillance, and violence impacts our perception, presenting artworks that include a fragmented revolver cast in body parts; animations of abstract landscapes along international borders; minimalist drawings that reflect distortions of the body; and images that depict an anonymous woman relaxing in the grass before the Tulsa race massacre in 1921.
Esteban Cabeza de Baca is an artist based in New York City and Amsterdam. Born in the border town of San Ysidro, CA (USA).,Cabeza de Baca challenges the loss of natural resources and reanimates pre-Columbian mythologies in the Americas with artworks that juxtapose representational imagery and abstraction.
Crystal Z Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist and writer from Oklahoma who traces the historical lineage of bias, otherness, and the space between the subject and the witness. Her art and writing considers the history of drawing in relation to present modes of capturing subjects, digital recognition, and image artifacts. Campbell is a former Whitney Museum Independent Study Studio Program fellow and is currently a fourth-year Tulsa Artist Fellow.
Theodore Darst draws on digital sources—high-resolution 3D animation, iPhone screen recording, hand-drawn animation, and re-photographed appropriated footage—to create linear collages that reflect the twenty-first-century cultural landscape.
Jonathan Ehrenberg is an artist based in New York City. Ehrenberg combines analog and digital media to describe a seemingly coherent world that is pieced together from sensory information and images from memories, fantasies, dreams, and associations. Ehrenberg received a BA from Brown University and an MFA from Yale University. His work has been included in exhibitions at MoMA PS1, SculptureCenter, Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York; Futura Center, Prague; The B3 Biennial, Frankfurt; Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn; and Nara Roesler, São Paulo, and reviewed in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Art in America. Previous residencies include LMCC Workspace, Harvestworks, Triangle, Skowhegan, New York; the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown; and Glenfiddich, Scotland.
Young Joo Lee combines inspirations from her dreams with personal and political histories to create drawings, sculptures, animation, and films. The content of her work often derives from her experience as an immigrant living in Germany and the United States. She is currently a College Fellow in Media Practice at Harvard University, teaching and researching on immersive storytelling using mixed media.
Omid Shekari makes art in order to capture universal stories about how institutional or state enforced violence impacts the human experience. His projects investigate how the state, as a military institution, has the power to use fear and rationalize military intervention in the name of national protection. Recent exhibitions include those at Marginal Utility Gallery, Philadelphia; NADA, New York; Greenfield Community College, Greenfield; Fleisher Art Memorial, Philadelphia; Ohio State University, Columbus; PAFA Museum, Philadelphia; Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia; Gallery Joe, Philadelphia; and Pelham Art Center, New York. Shekari is currently based in Oberlin, OH, and is a visiting assistant professor at Oberlin College.
Tariku Shiferaw is an artist based in New York City. His work explores mark-making to address the physical, metaphysical, and political spaces of art production, and reimagines how blackness might be represented through the drawing medium. Shiferaw is a current participant in the Independent Study Studio Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
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 Lindner, 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: Young Joo Lee, Borderline, 2019. Animation, Duration: 5:30 mins. Courtesy the artist.